You can't handle the truth. Or can you?
Director Lucy Tcherniak's The Truth About Stanley is an intentionally disjointed, intensely sad 20-minute PSA/film that tells the story of Sam, a boy fleeing abuse at home, and Stanley, an elderly Congolese man with a vivid imagination, both living on the streets of central London. The film is subtle, challenging and surprising in all the ways that great art-house movies should be. Some viewers might be put off by the time-hopping narrative and relatively few revelations about the principal characters. The hard facts of their struggle to survive on gritty thoroughfares, in filthy alleys and dreary subway tubes, however, are never in dispute. Street-life clichés—scenes of panhandling, rousting by cops, etc.—are largely avoided. Instead, the bleakness of their days and depth of their inner turmoil are suggested by superb visual storytelling, notably the use of muted, washed-out colors (grays are so prevalent, the film almost has a monochrome feel) and desolate landscapes, such as a forlorn stretch of industrial shoreline.
Scenes sans dialogue, set to minimalist piano themes and the music of Radiohead and Mumford & Sons, deepen the mood. Stanley is a gifted and animated storyteller who tries to alleviate their boredom and misery with his tall tales, at one point claiming his scars were the result of a tiger attack. Sam berates him for making stuff up, disputing his recollections of his wife ("She doesn't exist") and rejecting his blithe attitude toward their hand-to-mouth existence, noting simply: "It's not all right." The story's blurring of fantasy and reality puts some "facts" of the scenario in dispute, but makes Stanley's death—it's shown at the start, so that's no spoiler—no less painful and moving.
The film takes some shots at economic inequality and criticizes our capitalist culture of have vs. nots, but never in a heavy-handed way. For example, a shopping cart—so symbolic of consumerism—plays a key role, with Stanley pushing Sam around in one of the lighter sequences, and Sam later returning the favor under more morose and somewhat surreal circumstances. At the end, Sam's grasp on reality seems rather tenuous, but there's a ray of hope, though dim, as he confronts, at least in his mind, his fears about his father. Sometimes, there's little choice: Unpleasant truths are thrust upon us, and we cope—or escape—in the only ways we can.
Along with elevating consciousness, the filmmakers are raising funds, and say 100 percent of donations will benefit Anchor House and the Big Issue Foundation, which aid the homeless in the U.K. Via Adverve.