catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 9 :: 2013.04.26 — 2013.05.09


Finding real life on The Loneliest Planet

If you can have a conversation about the experience of watching a movie, while you’re still watching it, is that a good thing?

Last weekend my wife and I actually did this. We streamed The Loneliest Planet, per my suggestion. I didn’t know a lot about the film going in, and, therefore, neither of us was prepared for what we got. The unique thing about watching this particular film is you can actually talk about it while you’re watching it because there’s so little dialogue to navigate. So that’s what we did: we talked about the experience while it was happening, and it was eye opening.

The Loneliest Planet is Julia Loktev’s 113-minute walk through the Georgian countryside. The camera follows Nica and Alex, an engaged couple, as they hike the Caucasus Mountains with their guide Dato. Clearly seasoned travelers, the three move through the gorgeous landscape at a pace that makes you feel like they have nowhere to be anytime soon. Don’t think Into Thin Air here. Think Jerry or The Turin Horse. Almost nothing happens in this film except one thing (I won’t spoil that for you), and that isn’t exactly the most nail-biting moment in cinematic history. But, this one thing, as IMDB describes, “threatens to undo everything the pair believed about each other and about themselves.”

That description may sound dramatic, but the way it plays out on the screen is subtle and raw. This moment births an obvious and significant shift, unaddressed by all the parties involved. It plays out the way things often play out in real relationships.

The film is an exercise in voyeurism and the characters’ honesty and vulnerability alters the watching experience. Take, for instance, the scenes in which Nica and Alex are sexually intimate with each other. No romantic lines lead up to them having sex. No Taylor Swift or Michael Bublé song sets a mood. It’s just a couple, in a tent, in the dark, being together. Again, in short: it’s sex the way it really is.

Chuck Klosterman, in his book Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, skewers bands like Coldplay and films like Say Anything and When Harry Met Sally because they perpetuate what he calls “fake love.” The problem, as he states it, is that these artistic expressions “deliver an amorphous, irrefutable interpretation of how being in love is supposed to feel, and people find themselves wanting that feeling for real.” He goes on to say,

Pundits are always blaming TV for making people stupid, movies for desensitizing the world to violence, and rock music for making kids take drugs and kill themselves. These things should be the least of our worries. The main problem with mass media is that it makes it impossible to fall in love with any acumen of normalcy. There is no “normal,” because everybody is being twisted by the same sources simultaneously….  Real people are actively trying to live like fake people, so real people are no less fake.

As we are continually confronted with the devastating reality of our violent culture in film and otherwise, you have to wonder if Klosterman’s comments are fully on point. That said, Klosterman’s critique is important. While we may be exposed to a number of damaging things as we interact with the different forms of art and entertainment in our culture, we seldom stop and realize the profound, but subtle effect highly romantic stories are having on our lives.

It was actually during the film’s sex scenes that Kate and I became aware of our conditioning for a more romanticized version of life on screen. It felt wrong to be a part of this intimate moment of theirs, not because it was more graphic than the average sex scene in a film these days — if anything it was more modest. It felt wrong to be watching because it actually felt real. It was then that we realized that it is easier to accept the fake life that is often put on screen than it is to experience two people living a life that looks kind of like our own.

We’ve become so accustomed to high action, high romance and high drama that we now think life is only truly lived at that kind of fever pitch. The truth is that much of life is slow, mundane and unremarkable. And while this might sound depressing, it may only be in accepting this reality that we are able to avoid the depression caused by chasing the “fake love” that can never be obtained.

Here is the gift of The Loneliest Planet: by offering a stark contrast to the kind of storytelling that is popular today, it actually helps us see the other stories better. It is because of daring filmmaking like The Loneliest Planet that I can see more clearly the “amorphous, irrefutable interpretation of how being in love is supposed to feel” when it is presented to me in other places. I’m not suggesting that these other stories have no place or value. But what is more clear to me now is that they are presenting a kind of false reality that I have come to prefer in my movies and TV, a version of reality that is easier to look in on, and yet impossible to live.

So should you see The Loneliest Planet? Maybe. But what I do hope is that we all learn to see through this film.

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