I'm not talking in the emotional sense, but as in "OH MY GHOD I'M FUCKING BLEEDING" sense that I have encountered so often. Painless explores that question beautifully, but there's far more to it than a single question, in fact I see something underneath the surface that I find both lovely and troubling - is it possible to form any sort of connection with someone who doesn't experience pain of all kinds.
Stick with me, this is going to get deep...
Henry was born without the ability to feel pain. He deals with the practical problem of living without the ability to detect injury by basically shutting himself off from the world, physically and emotionally. He's attempting to fix his problem by delving into science, but at the same time, he's finding the problems of being a human who has to deal with different paths of development.
The performances here are the drive, but the clean direction, and specifically the precision editing, is what makes Painless into something really special. The performances are allowed exactly enough space to develop, and at the same time, it provides a focus, putting our eyes exactly where we need them to be. The sound design should also be called out. There is layering here that feels natural, but at the same time, when I went back and re-examined the sound, it was so developed. If you look at a coffee shop scene, you can see how a gentle music that exists in the space merges with the conversation to give a sensation, a reality, that brings us in because we understand the space, we get the setting. The way it is shot, and the way the actors present themselves to the camera, are then placed into a stylized reality of the frame, which then allows connection.
Henry is played by Joey Klein, and he's got a rough path. He has to play the distance without seeming cold, or maybe he has to play the cold without seeming distant. Evalena Marie as Shani is one of those roles that seems far simpler on the surface than it does in the analysis. The fact is she's the open heart of the film, and it is through her that we experience Henry in transition. I've been a big fan of Evalena since her remarkable turn in Withdrawl and have to say that she gives a performance that should cement her in my pantheon of actresses to watch!
Overall, I enjoyed the hell out of Painless. It's stylish, yet not overwhelming; it is subtle without being coy. It presents a story which may be science fiction without actually being genre, which is a zone of film that I really love.