Based on an Alice Elliott Dark short story of the same name, "In the Gloaming" explores a family's journey of healing over a four-month period as the prodigal son, Danny, returns unceremoniously home. It isn't clear to us at first precisely why Danny has come home, and no one in the family bothers to explore it, though they seem to silently know. Instead, they wear false smiles, talk about tomatoes and museums, and deny that anything unusual is happening right before their eyes. Save for Danny, the whole family has constructed illusions of perfection to shield them from the pain of their lonely, isolated lives together, and only Danny at first seems to notice how miserable and heart-sick everyone is beneath those sad self-deceptions. But the truth of his presence is so jarring that the family's moth-eaten veneers and pretenses begin to disintegrate as rapidly as Danny's body, and the unpleasant reality is revealed to us: the gay prodigal son has returned home to die.
While Danny is the only "imperfect" family member, the one who has brought shame and a quiet sense of disgrace to their lives, he is also the only one who has lived his life the most openly, honestly, and without guile. And as his body deteriorates and he begins the transition from life into death, his uncompromising sense of truth that in life made him an outcast becomes in death his greatest and most profound gift to his conflicted family. From Danny they learn self-acceptance, non-judgment, and unconditional love.
The heart of the story unfolds each evening at sunset, in the gloaming, where Danny and his mother (played by Glenn Close) meet to at last share their lives with one another openly, candidly, nakedly. And during that magical time of day when things move more slowly and you can see the face of God, "that time of longing between day and night", mother and son heal and become again whole.
Unlike other AIDS-related films, "In the Gloaming" isn't really about AIDS at all. And while the plot revolves around a young man dying of AIDS, it isn't really about death, either. It's singularly about healing. It is, in fact, a film that transcends its own genre and gracefully sidesteps the contrivances inherent to the typical gay story (the distant father and overprotective mother, etc. stereotypes which are part of this story, by the way, but which are handled with exceptional freshness, originality, and poignancy by Reeve).
At its essence, "In the Gloaming" is a film about going home not "home" to mom and dad, but home in the grandest universal sense and it employs transitions throughout to fulfill this journey: It takes place in the fall, when Summer transitions to Winter; the primary action occurs at sunset when the day transitions into night; and the story itself depicts a human being transitioning from one state of life into the next (his soul even ascends at the end of the film, if you pay close attention to Reeve's cinematography). There isn't a single bit of fat in this economical script, not one unnecessary word, not one untruthful moment, not one artificial performance.
As a debut work, "In the Gloaming" proved without question that Christopher Reeve could direct; as a legacy, it proves that he was an artist of the finest caliber. This film embraces the nakedness of human emotion with total abandon; Reeve seems intent to move our souls with his, and he absolutely succeeds. He takes us immediately by the hand and leads us into the guts of this family's troubled relationship with the grace and authority of a real storyteller. From the opening piano chords through to Dana Reeve's haunting acappella rendition of the title song at the close of the movie, Reeve seems to have wrapped his heart completely around this film, bookending it with the life-breath of his own personal experience (he even cast his young son to play Danny in the opening segment). You cannot escape this film untouched.