The Good, The Bad and the In-Between: Sam Esmail’s ‘Comet’

When we look back at the significant relationships we’ve had in life, our minds tend to go one of two places. If it ended in pain and anger, we focus on the negative parts we soldiered through. When it’s a bittersweet ending that we didn’t want to happen, our hearts respond with the best memories and times we shared with those importantly profound people. Films often feed you either the sunny days and happy endings or the opposite: the downer, emotional horror we go through time after time. It’s rare to get a film that captures the good, the bad and the in-between of love and loss as masterfully as Sam Esmail’s Comet, a film that quite easily holds the most personal and important mark on my life over the past few years.

Telling the story of Del (Justin Long) and Kimberly (Emmy Rossum), Comet focuses on a six-year span of the relationship between the two characters. Told in a very non-linear fashion, we begin with Del holding a bouquet of flowers and knocking on a door. Kimberly opens the door and we’re immediately transported to the day they met. The arrogant and self-assured Del is rolling a joint and standing in line to see a meteor shower at the famed Hollywood Forever cemetery in Los Angeles and suddenly sees Kimberly walking up to meet her date. As viewers, we’re given that special moment when you meet someone you can tell is special. Transfixed, Del fails to see an oncoming car and is saved only by Kimberly telling him to watch out. We then see that moment in which you don’t know what to say, so you end up saying the worst things. In Del’s case, he sizes Kimberly’s date up and as the anxiety grows, he realizes that this chance won’t ever happen again. He then asks for her number, leading to her date almost pummeling him to the ground.

Skipping ahead to two years later, we’re placed in a Paris hotel room, where the now couple are getting ready for a wedding and begin to argue over the smallest things. This is the moments in a relationship in which the small things that once made you smile begin to frustrate you. Del’s cynicism isn’t interesting to Kimberly anymore, and her knack for getting high and loud and ordering Chinese food when they have to leave in 30 minutes isn’t adorable to him. It’s annoying. It’s a far cry from those special moments we witnessed at the cemetery.

As the film continues, we’re given multiple moments of Kimberly and Del’s relationship. Reconnecting at a train stop after having broken up soon after Paris. More of the night they met, whereas the evening went on, the two kept bumping into each other and eventually started talking and enjoying their night so much that Kimberly ditched her prickish date and spent the night laughing and deep in conversation with Del. The two talk about every relationship having one big lie that could make or break a couple. Del gets his out of the way, lying about not having seen The Sixth Sense.

We see Kimberly years later (and present day), welcoming Del into her apartment, with packed boxes all around and Del examining every aspect of the place (and Kimberly). We see glimpses of the day they broke up for good, where Del senses something wrong with Kimberly and is eventually told that she’s cheated on him. Throughout these moments, we as viewers see what we’re not given very often by other relationship dramas: everything. What Comet isn’t, is a film that is trying to sell its viewer on a fairytale. Instead, it explores the idea that relationships are complex. Sometimes, there isn’t a hero or villain in the tale of two lovers. Sometimes, life determines where we are and how we react to the events we go through together.

Esmail crafted a film that speaks so eloquently about the wonderfully profound moments of falling in love, the difficult moments of going through something heartbreaking together, like an affair, a lie or the realization that maybe you’re better off without the other person. Comet is a film that takes the good times and the bad times, the black and white boxes we often put love into and shows that more times than not, the grey area exists just as much.

We’re given so many moments of big events in Del and Kimberly’s relationship. Moments like Del having the ring to propose to Kimberly in Paris and being too nervous to do it and eventually, accidentally, starting a fight that leads to the couple breaking up for the first time. Special moments in life that should have been beautiful but instead left your heart damaged and not knowing how to deal with them. Moments where instead of coming together for something special, tore you apart and exposed a crack that you never knew existed. Those are the moments we experience in Comet.

The smaller moments, like when Del and Kimberly, reconnecting at the train station, both remember a wedding reception they went to, where the DJ kept playing Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It,” not because something was wrong, but because he just really liked the song. Those small, unimportant conversations that when something is over, you find yourself holding onto, like those moments are your own personal life-jacket. Going through so many ups, downs, and middles with the couple allow us to see that, sometimes, life just happens. We’re given situations where Del is a complete asshole, followed by a situation in which Kimberly is cold to him. We’re also given situations where we see such love and wonder in the couple, that you find yourself not only rooting for them and feel devastated when they suffer. We bleed when they bleed.

When the entire film catches us to present day, Del and Kimberly are on a balcony, having a conversation. As it does so many times throughout the film, Daniel Hart’s hauntingly beautiful score begins building an anxiety-filled hope in us. Del comes clean that he wants Kimberly back. He can tell by the boxes packed that she and her boyfriend are not working out, that the bags under her eyes shows that she hasn’t slept much, when he knows that she sleeps like a bear. Del observes so much, as he does throughout the entire film, and he makes a desperate plea to Kimberly to give their relationship another chance…and then he is told that she’s pregnant and hasn’t slept well because of morning sickness.

Del’s heart hurts and we’re given one of the best monologues in ages. Del, the cynical bastard who never lives in the moment and sees everything “five minutes from now” to avoid surprises, admits that though he used to think love isn’t real. But he now sees that life isn’t real without it. We see Del vulnerable for the first time, not out of the anger earlier when he found out about Kimberly’s infidelity years before, not when he pushed her away when they should have dealt with their hurdles together, but truly vulnerable for the first time. As a viewer, that moment leads us to think that perhaps telling Del these things is Kimberly telling HER one big lie, to see how Del truly felt.

What makes those final moments so special is that, throughout the film, Del tells Kimberly that he had a dream that led him to contact her and talk about things. The non-linear fashion of film and various clues throughout lets us know that what we’re experiencing is THAT dream, not the reality of it all. As Del stands and looks at Kimberly, we see two suns rise. Earlier in the film, as the couple is laying in bed in Paris, we see snow falling inside the room. We see glitches and colours and objects that shouldn’t be there, as we weave in and out of a relationship that has seen its good, bad, and everything in-between. We’re given the chance to experience those moments via Del’s dream and are left with our own emotions and observations, leading us as viewers to fill in how things really do play out in our own heads.

What makes this such a special part of Comet is how it allows us to replay those moments and relationships in our own lives. Those moments of meeting someone who touched your life, made you feel better, understood you, and led you to feel again. Those moments when you realize each other are human beings and flawed, the realization that you’re driving each other crazy at times and how sometimes how we deal with things can eventually lead to losing something special. It’s painful to watch if you’re going through stuff in your own life and even when you’re not, you feel like you’re reliving those moments yourself. It’s painful and bruising, but at the same time, it’s hopeful to you as a viewer, to live vicariously through characters trying to love each other the best way they can.

Comet doesn’t have a happy ending, but it also doesn’t have a sad one either. It has a realistic ending and that realism lies in the fact that we don’t know what the future holds. Whether those perfect moments can outweigh the less than perfect fights, the imperfections we all hold. More importantly, that sometimes, life just happens and we can only adapt and hope that we did our best to show that person we loved and love them. Del and Kimberly are universal characters that, thanks to Esmail, Long and Rossum and the very important score by Hart, show us that it’s possible to experience a film that truly speaks to you.

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