Tribeca 2022: “You Can Live Forever” Shows Sapphic Love in A Religious World

In this Canadian romantic drama, two young teen girls from completely different worlds discover a love for each other amidst familial and religious pressure to adhere to strict tradition. You Can Live Forever attempts to break the mold of the typical teen love story, by utilizing a very contemporary cinematographic style and exploring a religious community not often represented in popular media — Jehovah’s Witnesses — but it ultimately falls short. While I will always appreciate and enjoy cheesy sapphic stories, this movie’s strangely quick pacing and rather shallow commentary left me wanting more.

During the first church scene in You Can Live Forever, churchgoers begin their service by singing a religious message in unison: “Come and spread the joyous news. Paradise for those who chose to follow Christ’s eternal word, […] life free from pain.” The choir’s melodies speak to a greater truth believed by Marike, one of our main characters, and her community of fellow Jehovah Witnesses — you can achieve rebirth and live forever if you follow “the truth” of Jehovah. But as the movie proceeds, we begin to see that “the truth” may not lie within religious doctrine, but within Marike and her future crush Jaime as they secretly explore their forbidden sapphic desire and love for one another.

A girl rests her head on another girls shoulder in the back of a car.

Traveling to her aunt’s home with a cassette in hand, Jaime is quickly revealed to be a young high school teen navigating the ‘90s, temporarily moving in with her extended family as her mother takes time to mourn the death of her husband and Jaime’s father. While her sexuality is not overtly announced or discussed until later in the film, her rather on the nose Kristen Stewart Twilight-esque costuming and monotonous line delivery certainly gives the audience an indication. The intensity with which Jaime’s eyes lock onto the back of devout follower Marike’s head and frame during church is the confirmation.

As Jaime and Marike’s friendship begins, viewers can immediately see how these characters are from two completely different worlds. The opposition is vibrant, with scenes of Jaime smoking marijuana around town, which starkly contrasts our look into Marike’s traditional, religious background. While we see Jaime being independent and making friends with classmates — all viewers see is Marike facing ostracism, rigid family rules, and a rather undetailed exploration of her religion steeped in stereotypes.

Two girls lean into each other and touch foreheads with their eyes closed.

Desire, passion, and love quickly override those differences as they fall in love with each other at a speedy pace — a pace so abrupt it felt a bit rushed and unrealistic. Longing stares during church quickly transform into secret bedside cuddles. Hugs in public bathrooms evolve into oceanside sensuality in the back seat of Jaime’s car. As Jaime and Marike get closer and closer to embracing their truths, anxiety and fear arise at every turn as both the characters and viewers brace for the inevitable moments they are seen being affectionate. It is, however, refreshing to see how, despite various social forces working against her, Jaime remains stalwart in her decision to be herself.

The film would have benefited from richer dialogue between our main characters, a deeper exploration of Marike’s community and family background, and more appropriate pacing. But ultimately, it offers a pleasant portrayal of young queer love and desire, as well as a good message regarding the importance of being true to oneself — and isn’t that the type of storytelling we want to add to the slate of sapphic films? I believe so.


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Amari Gaiter

Amari Gaiter is a writer, aspiring community organizer, educator, facilitator and a lover of music based in New York and Los Angeles.

Amari has written 11 articles for us.

3 Comments

  1. I loved this film and thought is was a delicate portrait of young sapphic love, battling an institution of ignorance to be together—in all places the tolerant land of Canada! I came away with a better understanding of Marike’s unique circumstance and the overwhelming programming she would have to destroy and loss of community she would endure to be anywhere near the place of self-acceptance that Jamie is able to embody. Their chemistry was also remarkable to watch and the fact that this is loosely drawn from the writer/director’s own experience of first love in a JV setting, makes it all the more powerful. This reviewer’s main gripe seems to be pacing — what an odd and petty comment.

  2. “a pace so abrupt it felt a bit rushed and unrealistic”

    Like, what? Have you met lesbians / sapphics / women who love women* (wlw)? We are the pros at moving too fast and falling in love overnight!

    I feel like one of the reasons this movie felt so real to me was because the protagonists didn’t linger and dance around each other for hours and hours. But to be honest, I don’t even think it was that face paced? There was quite a build up of unresolved tension, and the careful exploration suddenly becoming bolder after it’s confirmed that their feelings for each other are requited — it just felt accurate and resonated a lot with me and my own queer experiences.

    After all the memes and tongue-in-cheek jokes about lesbians / sapphics / wlw “u-hauling” and moving in with each other after a very short period of time (which are rooted in very real dynamics), this movie felt refreshingly realistic. As far as stories about first loves go, I think it also captured the urgency, the intensity, the uncertainty, the joy, the messiness of truly falling in love for the first time.

    And especially since this is happening in the 1990s, not the 1790s or 1890s, even if the Jehovah witnesses and religious aspects make it more complex and conservative in many ways. It’s still taking place in an era (at least in Canada) where being gay is not a crime anymore, where gay people, though marginalized, exist openly. So it makes sense that it would be a little more fast paced than an european period drama.

    And I couldn’t disagree more with the comparison to Twilight. I don’t know if the author grew up in the 90s, but as someone who did, and in Canada, I thought the costume design was especially well done. It felt real, intentional but without being too on the nose or insistent. I thought it captured the essence of those years quite well, nothing at all to do with Twilight — which is also taking place a decade or more later than You Can Live Forever?

    And although I can see why someone would want to compare the actor who plays Jaime to Kristen Stewart, I think her performance was much, much stronger and generally felt more honest — probably because, unlike Stewart, she was able to play a queer character living a queer story in a movie directed by a lesbian woman.

    I also personally think she was amazing and had incredible chemistry with the actor playing Marike, something I think we can all (hopefully) agree that Kristen Stewart didn’t share with Robert Pattinson (you know, if we’re gonna go there).

    I think this review lacked a little depth and nuance, and only very superficially addressed the themes and certain aspects of the film, which is disappointing. A little more research on the people involved in the making of this movie and a stronger analysis of how it relates to queer culture would have informed the author much better than an unwarranted parallel with Twilight, of all movies.

    I say all of this with love and compassion, from the perspective of a 30-something queer who grew up when there were very, very few movies openly portraying young queer love, and even fewer doing such a great job at capturing it so beautifully and poignantly.

    After all the period dramas about lesbians we’ve had over the past few years, You Can Live Forever was a breath of fresh air, a love letter to being queer and young, and definitely one of the best movies I’ve watched in a while.

    *I’m using the term “women loving women” and gendered terms in general with the understanding and connotation that people of many different genders (and not only women) relate to being lesbian / sapphic / loving women and non-men!

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