TIFF 2021: ‘The Wheel’ is a Painful Kind of Beauty

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The Wheel

Love isn’t just happiness and light and fulfillment. Love can be, even when it’s strong, a journey that hurts as much as it helps, especially when you strive to hold on tighter as it begins to slip away. The Wheel is a stunning example of the pain of love and an authentic look at how two people can be intimately and deeply connected and yet, still be hurt by that tether. Directed by Steve Pink and featuring a screenplay by Trent Atkinson, The Wheel stars Amber Midthunder, Taylor Gray, Bethany Anne Lind, and Nelson Lee.

In The Wheel, Walker (Taylor Gray) and Albee (Amber Midthunder) are a married couple who were thrown together in a children’s group home. Having become inseparable, the two got married at 16 to rescue Albee from the foster family she’s living with. They’re in love; they’re vital to each other, and yet, they’re on the brink of divorce eight years later. But their strife isn’t because they don’t love each other. In fact, they’re the only constant in each other’s lives.

In the hopes to save their marriage, Walker brings Albee to a mountain getaway where, armed with a relationship self-help book, he hopes to mend their marriage. The Wheel juxtaposes Walker and Albee against their newly engaged Airbnb hosts, Ben (Nelson Lee) and Carly (Bethany Anne Lind). Two sides of a marriage journey, one starting and one ending, The Wheel cracks open intimacy with a raw emotion that will hit viewers. But more importantly, it looks at how the bonds we make change as we grow and untangles the complexity of trying to hold on while understanding you’re just not the same person.

While the cast is filled with strong and emotional performances, it’s Amber Midthunter as Albee that is striking. Reluctant to go on the trip in the first place, Albee becomes increasingly vicious to Walker and the Airbnb’s hosts. She rips apart Walker’s personality, belittles the past, and it hurts to hear her talk. Albee is struggling to see her marriage as something more than a childhood crush that went too long. Both Albee and Walker carried their trauma and their pain into their marriage, and while it bonded them as kids, as adults, it can be too much to bear. It hurts to hear Albee talk and break down Walker when she really intends to shame herself.

Albee knows she is cruel, and on the outside, she revels in it. She pushes and pushes, built on a mountain of trauma, cuts, and wounds, and in how Midthunter plays the character, it comes out as easy as any compulsion. But that compulsion doesn’t make it easier to watch her pull everyone and everything apart. The worst is when she viciously rips apart Ben and Carly’s relationship. But when Ben and Carly are drawn into the younger couple’s angst and attempt to intervene, the two begin to uncover their own fissures as they begin to see small reflections of themselves in the pair.

The Wheel is a painful kind of beauty that works from start to finish. It’s a slice of life that looks at intimacy and love in a way we don’t see all the time. Love doesn’t exist outside pain; sometimes, it runs through it. You can’t be hurt by someone you don’t care for, and you can’t mend that pain if you’re not looking towards something longer and lasting. In that way, The Wheel is a tragic and honest look at life, trauma, and how we try to hold on to people who make us whole. It also shows that sometimes couples who show only the beauty and don’t work through their problems aren’t as perfect as they are on the surface.

The Wheel had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.


The Wheel
  • 9.5/10
    Rating - 9.5/10
9.5/10

TL;DR

The Wheel is a painful kind of beauty that works from start to finish. It’s a slice of life that looks at intimacy and love in a way we don’t see all the time. Love doesn’t exist outside pain; sometimes, it runs through it. You can’t be hurt by someone you don’t care for, and you can’t mend that pain if you’re not looking towards something longer and lasting. In that way, The Wheel is a tragic and honest look at life, trauma, and how we try to hold on to people who make us whole.