Well, if you’re going to duck into a dark theatre at midday in the middle of a beautiful, sunny Saturday — Toronto spring’s first such Saturday — you’d better get to see some pretty stunning landscapes. 20 Seconds of Joy didn’t disappoint.
I should admit, I would never have gone to see 20 Seconds if it hadn’t been for the first five installments I’ve recently watched of BBC’s Planet Earth series. I thought I’d had my fill of wild and gorgeous nature docs. But I was wrong! Oh, so wrong. Anyway, this one, about BASE-Jumping, really reeled me in with its promises of beautiful nature.
But actually, if the shots of Karina Hollekin hurling herself off 290-metre cliffs (including wearing a wild, flying squirrel-esque suit) are the visual highlight, they’re actually just window-dressing for a more serious subject: death. Or the fear and/or courting of. As one of the other jumpers interviewed in the movie puts it, “You don’t really talk about it, but this sport will eventually kill you.” One wrong move and it’s over. In exchange for a tiny window of orgasmic joy. With the difference that in BASE-Jumping there appears to be little pleasure in repetition — to keep the high you have to keep doing ever more dangerous stuff.
It’s this vicious dynamic that provides the drama. And makes 20 seconds more than just another sports doc. Though not that much more. The director and central character have obviously bonded, leaving a lone on-camera psychologist (and former extreme sporter himself) providing just a few teasing ideas about megalomania. The rest of the critical thinking you’ll just have to do yourself. 20 Seconds plays again Tuesday at 1:30 at the Cumberland.