Barrier Device

By James Keller

A barrier device, or at least an example of one, is the condom. Barrier Device, directed by Grace Lee is also an American film, first premiered at the 2002 San Francisco Asian American Film Festival, using the barrier device not as a subject, but as a catalyst to tell a story focusing on relationships, obsession, friendship and betrayal.
The 26-minute film follows a researcher, Audrey (Sandra Oh), who is conducting a study examining the female condom. During the study, she learns that one subject, Serena (Suzy Nakamura), is currently dating (and having sex with) her ex-fiancée. Audrey rejects all standards of intellectual credibility and leaves Serena in the study, using her position to learn intimate details about Serena and her partner, and trying to subtly convince her to break it off.
As strange a topic as this may seem, Barrier Device proves a fresh, unique lens through which to examine relationships, how they end and how we react when our significant other moves on. The study provides a venue for viewers, along with Audrey, to learn details about Serena’s sex life with Audrey’s ex. The connection they form, something that any ethics committee would throw the book at, creates a bond. From that, a friendship forms between the two–something that can be broken more easily than the researcher-subject trust when the full complexity of the situation is revealed.
The female condom, aside from the study’s subject, magnifies Audrey’s difficulties in moving on. One of her colleagues, Dwight (Jonathan Liebhold), turns tail and leaves at the thought of using a female condom during a brief encounter with her.
For such a short movie, Barrier Device offers an insightful look into relationships, exposing feelings and actions that anyone who’s been in a long-term relationship and been dropped will relate to. With comedy built off an understandably awkward subject, and connections made between characters that could, in all honesty, be any one of us, Barrier Device is a cleverly unique and painfully sincere film.
James Keller
The American Shorts Program, featuring Barrier Device, along with Audit, The Quest for Length and The Human BEEing, plays Oct. 1 at 9:00 p.m. at the Globe Cinema.

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