In his directorial debut, 90210’s Jason Priestley takes the wheel crafting a charming road film that questions society and how we deal with life and death. Based on the screenplay by Jessie Gabe, Cas & Dylan (2014) is a black comedy that follows the final journey of a man on his way to die.
Cas & Dylan Official Trailer. Video Credit.
After 15 years since his wife died, 61 year old Dr. Cas Pepper finds himself terminally ill and decides to “head west,” where he would choose to die on his own terms. His plan is quickly derailed when he reluctantly agrees to give a lift to Dylan Morgan, a 22-year-old aspiring writer. After striking Dylans’ boyfriend with his car, Cas and Dylan are now “fugitives of the law” as they head across the Canadian countryside.
Cas & Dylan is riddled with dark humour. Most of which, Priestley finds within the predicaments in which he places the characters, as well as in their dialogue. Dylan consistently provides us with moments of ambivalence through her absurd and illogically inappropriate actions. All whilst in the early stages of pregnancy, Dylan’s nonstop chatter is the least of our concerns as she almost violates everything that is seen as socially acceptable. Like compulsively lying, smoking, shoplifting CD’s and jerky as well as snooping through Cas’ things. Cas and Dylan first cross paths in the hospital where Dylan is sitting at the end of the bed of a terminally ill patient. Assuming she was visiting a relative, later we discover that Dylan visits hospitals to experience ‘suffering vicariously through patients’ as a form of inspiration for her writing.
Suicide is not something people want to talk about, let alone enjoy talking about. Considered such a social taboo, Priestley finds humour around suicide and human suffering without being completely offensive and insensitive by stripping down what it means to be a human. Through the two lead characters, Priestley explores the intimate connections that individuals develop, desire and value throughout their lives. The mismatched duo shares a similar cynicism on life that resonates a hilariously dry wit that is consistent throughout their endless and absurd banter. “Are you a philanthropist?” asks Dylan of her taciturn companion. “Because I am a philanthropy. I’m more than happy to have money thrown at me,” says Cas, shutting her down quickly in a low grumble, “That’s called a stripper.” Richard Dreyfuss brings a vulnerability to Cas that allows him to avoid the clichéd grumpy old man, by giving him layers that demands compassion and respect.
The chemistry between both Dreyfuss and Maslany is outstanding in an otherwise, what some might consider to be, stereotypical road flick. The story is some what predictable, with the liking of two mismatched characters having to get along but by also relying on the typical road trip iconography like vast stretches of interstate highways, expansive landscapes, diners and gas stations. The film is definitely visually satisfying and is an effective tourist campaign for Canada. Although, in terms of the situation in which this journey is being taken, I subjectively found some ironic morbidity within the serenity of the surrounding landscapes. As the film progresses the beginning travel montages depict barren farm land, where towards the end shows vibrant green forests. In a way, this represents both characters seeking to start a new life, even if that means for Cas, ending his current life.
The script goes beyond the simplicities of a road film through intertwining undertones of our inevitable demise and dark humour, which ultimately separates it from the rest. Facing a bizarre case of writers block, preventing Cas from being able to write his suicide letter, instead of discouraging him, Dylan jumps at the chance to help him overcome it.
“So what would you say your theme is?” she inquires a bit too sweetly.
“Regret? Unrequited love?” Cas replies dryly, “Death. The theme is death.”
This is spoken as a voice over, as we watch their car drive down a long, arid and lifeless stretch of road. We then enter the car where Dylan is jotting down notes. The candidness of this scene, in specific their dialogue, provokes discomfort, serious thought as well as amusement in the audience. There is a lot of ambiguity within this film, that allows for Priestley to underline the cruelties of the modern world and address issues within society. Like the broader societal debate between suicide and euthanasia: the practice of intentionally ending a life to relieve pain and suffering, that is indirectly explored through Cas’ storyline.
It is through the isolated and alone moments where Priestley narrows our focus in on each characters, that unravels the extent of their secret suffering. These scenes are needed; not only for plot development but also to balance out and allow for much of the humour that exudes from the moments that Cas and Dylan share together.
More than just a road trip film, Jason Priestley finds a beautiful balance between humour and tragedy that makes Cas & Dylan stand out as a black comedy. By the end of the film, you do feel as though you have taken this journey along side them and from its ambiguity you are left thinking about your own life and death a little more, long after its finished.
Schachtman, B N 2005, ‘Black comedy,’ Comedy: A geographic and historical guide, Volume I ed. Maurice Charney, Westport CT. Greenwood Publishing, viewed 20 September 2017, <https://moodle.uowplatform.edu.au/pluginfile.php/1101720/mod_resource/content/2/Black%20comedy.pdf >
Hobby, H & Bloom, H 2010, Blooms Literacy Themes: Dark Humour, Blooms Literacy Criticism, Infobase Publishing, viewed 22 September 2017, < https://books.google.com.au/books?id=5Vf6nC8XKWsC&pg=PA80&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false >