Fantasia 2011: LOVE Review
What are human beings if not feedback organisms? We talk, we fight, we do both horrible and wonderful things to each other across the world on a daily basis we are a reflection of what others tells us as much as we are our own people. We are social animals where one of the chief forms of torture would be complete isolation. Life is simply no fun without someone, friends, lovers, colleagues, with which to share it. Science Fiction films have often tackled the 'last man on earth' as a starting point for whatever monsters or disease or wherever the story may go, but what if the last man on Earth, was not on Earth? What if the enemy is not disease or zombies but simply the knowledge that you are stuck in isolation. This is the scenario played out in William Eubank's science fiction odyssey simply titled Love.
Opening with a tour de force Civil War prologue, in which one man is sent away from a doomed siege, ordered by his commanding officer to be the sole survivor of the engagement. The man is consumed with guilt over being left alive when others are all to perish yet nonetheless ends up in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Flash-forward in a single cut to the International Space Station. The year is 2039 and astronaut Lee James Miller is a single-man crew charged with the task of taking systems inventory of the previously abandoned and obsolete station. During a routine series of systems checks, he loses contact with Houston, Koroloyov, everyone. It is a sublime moment. One moment, you are a trained professional doing your job, the next, you have lost all contact with everyone. For Miller at that instant, his world comes into laser focus and loses focus simultaneously. Love is the story of Miller's attempt to keep himself alive, and more importantly sane, when he has no one to talk to. He spends his time keeping the life-support and other critical systems going and trying to keep from being bored with the detritus left on the station: old tech manuals (unfortunately in Russian), polaroids of the crews of 20 years past which provide a little fantasy fodder and role playing, but hardly offer the real thing. Ironically, he also has the most gorgeous window seat in the solar system. The film tries to use this situation to get at the understanding of the real importance of social connection, the illusion of self-control as an individual and as a species. Visualized in a slow but inevitable change in behavior and body language when left alone with nobody watching, it is not taken to the extreme taken in say José Saramago's Blindness, but Gunner Wright is very convincing in his reaction to first loss of control, then boredom, then loneliness and despair. This is especially so since much of the film hangs on his solo performance.
Love is very hands on labour of, well, love (perhaps obsession is better) for the better part of a decade for Eubanks, who started out the project in 2006 (and must have been super pissed when Duncan Jones' Moon came out, which covers some similar ground) as a series of music videos for Tom DeLonge's Angels & Airwaves and eventually morphed its way into a narrative feature. The music element, and the overall sound design (handsomely polished on the technical side by the folks who did Black Swan and Transformers) is stunningly effective. The sonic energy of the film help hide some of the bubble gum and duct tape aesthetic of the International Space Station set which nevertheless stretches every penny of the films half-a-million dollar budget. It is the nature of the beast when making a film about dilated time and depression that the film be of necessity boring for stretches, in the same way it would probably be unwise to make a submarine thriller full of wide open spaces. A lot of extreme close ups, changing angles within limited space and macro-style cinematography keep the visuals fresh and interspaced interview vignettes (along the lines of Spike Lee's Inside Man, which form a narrative dovetail with the opening segment) might explain the film thesis a tad much, but like Miller we also yearn for a little break in the monotony, and the aforementioned soundtrack is completely enveloping. It is an ambitious thing to do an indie science fiction picture (and first feature) as a love-letter and homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey, with big effects and big ideas. Nobody is expecting Eubanks to match one of the greatest films in the history of the medium, there is only one Stanley Kubrick, he doesn't embarrass himself.
While Love is missing the third act social commentary of the similar stir-crazy Moon, its commentary on the social is engrossing enough to want to know what happens next to our man in a bottle. The ending is all sound and fury, signifying something.