Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Film: The Loneliest Planet

This movie came on my radar randomly (through some work I was doing actually) and I loved the title. I love the play on the guidebooks, The Lonely Planet, for a film about the quintessential Lonely Planet types. I accumulate a huge list of artistic/indie films I want to watch, though, because I have to be in the right mood, (I mean let's face it my ideal movies are old school Meg Ryan rom coms) and it's just so hard to know. I mean this had 2 1/2 stars on Netflix which is never a good thing. But I read just enough of a review to convince me to watch it sooner rather than later and I ended up really loving this film.

I love it because it's about how lonely this world is, how no matter how much you feel you know someone you can never really know how much you truly know them until certain things happen, and I also loved it because it communicates so much through the visuals of the film and because the first half of the film and the second half serve as an inverse mirror and ugh, it's just really good?

I will be talking about the film WITH FULL SPOILERS. So before I start, I want to mention that this is the kind of movie it might actually be best to go into not knowing anything about it except that is the kind of film that has long silences and shots that may seem to be meaningless, and dialogue and conversations that feel grounded in reality. It's a film about a collection of small moments rather than a strong plot that moves it forward. So if you don't like those kinds of movies, I can't guarantee that you'll like this. But...if you are interested in the thematic material or you like these movies when well done and you haven't seen this one, than I recommend it!


I don't see any point in talking about this movie without spoilers. So. The Loneliest Planet introduces us to a couple, Nica and Alex. They are planning on going on a hike through the Georgian (as in the country) mountains with a guide. They are in love, engaged to be married, and the opening of the film establishes the incredible intimacy they share. When you travel, you know, you are never at your best, there are all these uncomfortable situations you have to face and there's no time or place for makeup and there's really no place to hide. So you kind of get what I mean. Nica and Alex have an incredible easiness with each other and the many little moments in the opening of the film depict how much they just genuinely enjoy each other's company, how deeply comfortable they are with each other, how confident and assured they are of each other's love. Every scene crafts this feeling of familiarity and comfort and joy. Even so, there are moments of foreshadowing that something might happen. Their guide hears something and it causes them to pause and you are wondering if something indeed is stalking them. As they struggle up over rope bridges and through uncomfortable passes, Nica declares she's fine and perfectly capable of taking care of herself, but each time you're thinking maybe eventually she won't be. And that's how this movie progresses, our little trio hiking through the mountains. There are many scenes that allow us to contrast the wide openness of the land, the way we can be feel so grounded in how known we are and how loved despite the harsh indifference of the earth around us.

So now you know the set-up, the first half of the movie. This film turns on a moment and it seems like a small one but it changes everything. As they are hiking through the mountains they run into a local who is carrying a gun. Without warning he swings and points his rifle at Alex, who grabs Nica and positions her in front of him. It's like a blink and you'll miss it moment because he quickly moves her behind him, but the damage has been done. In the heat of the moment, his first instinct was survival and to use whatever means necessary to ensure it and that happened to be Nica. Eventually the guy lowers his weapon and even hands Alex some sunglasses, but everything has changed.

Suddenly our happy little group has turned into a group of strangers as Nica closes herself off from Alex. And the thing about this kind of movie is that it gives you all the space you need to feel what the characters are feeling. It's so easy to imagine what they both feel and to sympathize with them. And as the film now moves into a new place, we start to see what it's like to be on this trip all alone. Suddenly we are exposed to loneliness all over again, only this kind of loneliness is different, because it's on the other side of loss. The huge mountain scenes feel more vast than before and everything feels harder with none of the joy of companionship.

There's this scene where they are crossing a cold creek and when before Nica would go first she tells Alex to do so, assuring him as she so often does that she'll be fine. But isn't, she falls in, but Alex is so unaware (possibly so wrapped up in his feelings of self-recrimination) that it's their guide that notices first. As they pull her out of the water trembling she resists Alex's attempts to comfort her. Earlier in the movie she took a freezing cold shower, but there was no sense that it was a burden because she was doing all of this, sharing it with someone she loved. But life becomes something altogether different when these hardships are endured alone, when the people you love aren't the reward for your endurance because you no longer even know if you know them.

Similarly, there are two shots in the film that focus on Nica's hair from behind. Early in the film she's on a motor bike behind Alex and her hair is flying free. It's a really beautiful shot and speaks to the sort of freedom such deep intimacy brings and the innocent stage of their relationship where they trust each other completely. Later on, "after the moment" we see Nica from behind again and her hair is tied up, representing the prison of isolation. Alex comes up from behind her and reaches out a hand to touch her, but never quite does.

And while I know nothing about these characters apart from these moments, they feel so real and universally human. Later on Nica is at the fire with their guide, openly flirting--an impulse that is understandable in light of what has happened. Alex goes to bed and the guide puts the moves on Nica and she doesn't resist at first a betrayal that perhaps feels more intentional than Alex's. She does come to regret it and breaks it off.

Will the couple reconcile? Can they overcome what has happened? The film doesn't answer this question, and to be honest it shouldn't. It certainly does feel like there's hope at the end, but everything has changed.

Have you of you watched it? I'd love to hear your thoughts! I feel like it's such a rich film with true complicated emotions that can't be boiled down to right or wrong. Also, it's interesting how it's Alex that pulls Nica in front of him--if there was a gender reversal here would we feel differently since it's almost expected that men should protect women? It's interesting to think about!

This film is based on the short story "Expensive Trips Nowhere" by Tom Bissell which in turn derives some inspiration from Hemingway's "The Short Happy Life of Frances Macomber" It's interesting because it also reminded me a tiny bit of Little Bee a book I sort of hated but that has a huge mystery at its heart that is not unlike what happens here.

Reasons to Watch: It's excellent, thought provoking, and interesting. It's available on Netflix Instant. It's written and directed by a woman.

Last year I watched some of my favorite movies of the year in the beginning of the year and this year I'm worried that has happened again! I hope to write a bit about Teddy Bear and The Apartment later this week, both of which I really liked as well. Also, Ana, if you are reading this I watched the Sunset films and will write about them, too!


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