There are few things scarier than losing control of your own body. It’s a key reason why stories of possession and zombie movies are so prevalent: being helpless within your own corporeal form is one of the worst fates imaginable.
But what if you willingly gave up half your time to another person?
That’s the question asked in Jonathan, the 2018 science-fiction drama from director Bill Oliver. Now streaming on Netflix, Jonathan is an under-the-skin thriller deeply entrenched in brotherly love, with a dash of abnormal psychology for good measure.
Jonathan tells the story of one man, the titular Jonathan (Ansel Elgort), who sticks to a very precise schedule. He wakes up at 7:00 am, goes for a run at 7:30, works part-time as a draftsman for an architect, does chores, cooks food, and then is in bed by 3:00 pm.
Like clockwork. Every day.
The only thing that changes in Jonathan’s life is the content of the video messages he leaves himself. He watches one when he wakes up in the morning, and then records one in the afternoon before he goes to sleep.
What isn’t clear until later is that Jonathan’s “brother” John inhabits Jonathan’s body from 7:00 pm to 7:00 am. He works a part-time night job and sticks to the rules, leaving messages to catch Jonathan up on what his body was doing while his personality was dormant. It all goes according to plan…
…until John breaks the rules.
The sci-fi twist is explained as merely a rare neurological disorder in which multiple human beings co-exist within one body. John and Jonathan’s doctor, Dr. Nairman, installed a timer within their brain allowing them to take shifts to allow them to live their separate lives. And they are separate. While Jonathan only wants to focus on his career, John is much more free-spirited, hence why he handles the nightlife.
Jonathan is very much a Jekyll and Hyde story, and this is heightened even more with the choices the film takes. The viewer only ever sees Jonathan’s point of view. Just like him, we only catch glimpses of John through his recorded messages.
Though his screentime is brief, Ansel Elgort carries himself completely differently as John. His stilted demeanor as Jonathan may look like bad acting, but in contrast to John, it shows just how talented an actor it takes to portray two completely different characters without any identifier needed as to who is who.
Though it could be tempting to make Jonathan a thriller pitting a man against someone else inhabiting his own body, it’s instead a touching sci-fi drama about the love between two brothers, and the sacrifice between them.
Jonathan is now streaming on Netflix.