From the get-go, I felt like I was cheating by reading director Cat Tyc’s explanation of her intentions for this film. But how could I not? They were listed directly below the film clip I watched on Vimeo. If I hadn’t read about Tyc’s process, and then later, gone on to read the short story in which the film was loosely based, Fernando Sorrentino’s “There Is A Man in the Habit of Hitting Me Over the Head with an Umbrella,” I’m not sure what I would have taken away from this piece.
The short film depicts a pretty young woman who is—as the title suggests—constantly being followed by a man in the habit of hitting her over the head with an umbrella. Tyc reveals in her written disclosure that the main character is dealing with an abortion, and while there are instances where this is pretty directly clear, they are somewhat fleeting and you could easily miss them, or at least confuse them and take the film to mean something else entirely.
The flashes of babies and children and body parts while she sits in a nightgown on the doctor’s examining table. The out-of-it state the main character is in when engaged in a conversation with her friend; the appointment she alludes to in that same instance, and the carefully worded language the girl uses with her therapist about how the man didn’t exactly bludgeon her, “he was merely tapping, not causing any pain at all.”
She might have been getting tested for STDs, or following up on a previous doctor visit, her condition unknown. If the viewer blinks his or her eyes a few seconds, the main character might have been dealing with a death in the family, a bad dream, or a memory from her childhood she had since blocked out.
The short story also paints a picture rather vague in its meaning, not to mention with a varied gender setup. “There's a Man in the Habit of Hitting Me on the Head with an Umbrella” has a distinct emotive quality and certainly reoccurring themes, but these too remain ambiguous and largely up for interpretation. Readers had varied guesses about the author’s intentions. Guilty conscience, bad habit, and severe addiction were among the top choices. Laughter was key, as well, yet some found the story to be of the utmost seriousness.
Personally, the film itself struck a chord in me that was different than any I had read about regarding the story. I thought the umbrella, if not too obvious of a metaphor, represented the constant nagging we carry around with us at all times—not guilt exactly—but pressure and anxiety that comes from responsibility, conflict, and perhaps past decisions we’ve made that follow us around constantly and haunt us.
The power of the umbrella seemed to snap the girl in and out of reality, as if to show the two contradictory emotions she forever struggled with. One is to come to peaceful terms with the man, to accept the constant tapping, as it isn’t painful to her necessarily, but certainly annoying, as she admits. The other, of course, is to feel utterly bothered by this ever-present and inescapable force lingering around her. Whether abiding closely with the director’s intentions or choosing your own viewing path, Umbrella absolutely succeeds in creating an emotional piece of work. I can only imagine this short conjures up whatever it is the man in the habit of hitting the film’s star over the head with an umbrella, represents for you.