TIME ON FIRE: A COMEDY OF TERRORS is a tellingly funny and defiantly disobedient story of a young man’s struggle to overcome an almost-always fatal disease – with the emphasis on his emotional journey through the hallucinogenic absurdity of his surroundings. From the moment of his diagnosis, by a doctor whom he imagines is the reincarnation of Richard Nixon, through the cartoon madness of his hospitalizations, the story’s flawed hero encounters obstacles not only horrific, but utterly unexpected.
Minor ironies, such as the discovery that the medical systems intended to heal are actually every bit as treacherous as the illness, lead to greater ones, like learning that the relationship for which one survives functions only in the fact of death. These heart-rending observations about family and romantic relationships, as well as the illustrations of the cruelties of a medical system that demands compliance over individual excellence, are demonstrated through events as mundane as the arrival of a get well card from well-meaning friends: “We are thinking of you, and we will always remember you.”
The journey leads the film’s protagonist through blistering fever-fantasy gospel musical numbers, to a Madison Avenue sperm bank; from a mind-reading blonde bombshell of a psychic healer to secretive hospital bathroom sex with his girlfriend.
TIME ON FIRE travels the lonely path away from health and community, then leads to a triumphant return to career, friends, and life, only to explore the complexity involved in staving off the inevitable. By traveling with the story’s subject into the hoped-for, post-illness world of the well where he finds himself uninspired and addicted to watching “Wheel of Fortune” episodes twice a day on television, the screenplay strives for something deeper than the usual sentimentalist survival story. Describing himself near the end as “one of the very luckiest of the unluckiest people to have ever lived,” the story’s subject ultimately escalates his tale into a deeply observed study of what it means to be alive in the face of death; what it means to live in a world offering all the beauty and the horror on display in ours.
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