You’re at university now—no more Avengers, no more fun explosions. It’s time to become a real adult, with refined taste and an interesting indie sensibility. Resident film expert, Thomas Giblin, provides you with a pathway to a more nuanced understanding of film. You’re going to be so much fun at parties!
As we, students at UoA, are trapped indoors while the rest of the country enjoys their zinger box meals and newfound freedom, there’s no better time to look inwards at the films that highlight the themes of confinement and isolation. We might cry tears of catharsis, as these films remind us that we are not going through it alone. We have company, in the form of a sentient Roomba and astronaut Brad Pitt (the epitome of daddy issues).
Escapism is key in times like this, which this year’s most popular blockbusters and television shows acknowledge. However, looking at what you could have, rather than what you have, makes the small routines we cling onto even harder than they need to be. Yes, life is tough. Yes, our world may never be the same again (yikes). But we must endure and persevere to find the beauty and humanity in these times.
If you haven’t seen WALL-E I have serious questions about you and your childhood. From Andrew Stanton, the director of Finding Nemo, Finding Dory and John Carter (let’s ignore this one), Pixar’s magnum opus tells the heart-achingly beautiful story of a kind robot—left on earth to clean up the mess humans have created, WALL-E has gained sentience and is now pining for friendship and love.
I was eight years old when this came out and I cried, for quite possibly the first time in a cinema. Years later, as an adult, it hits so much harder. The film’s first half, which features almost no dialogue, is Chaplin-esque visual storytelling at its finest. The second half is Pixar brilliance. How a romance between two robots can be so human is remarkable, but that is the genius of Pixar. It is rather ironic, though, to see such a damning indictment of capitalism from a monolithic corporation as Disney, but the film still remains as the perfect antidote to lockdown blues whilst being quite possibly the best-animated film ever made (yes, even better than Shrek).
On the opposite end of films set in space about loneliness and love, there exists Ad Astra. Described as Apocalypse Now BUT IN SPACE, James Gray’s introspective sci-fi masterpiece features Brad Pitt at his best and his most handsome. The film is set in the near future, where a base on the moon conveniently houses a Subway and an Applebee’s. You know, in case you get peckish. The film is as ice-cold as the space it’s set in. The world that echoes our very own, with emotions seen as a liability. Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) must navigate his emotions and maintain a facade of indifference as he searches for his father who is lost in space. The absence of a father figure hits close to home for so many, but grounds a film that soars into the depths of the solar system in something deeply human. The nothingness of space and of McBride shouldn’t be described as nihilistic but rather as a condition of a world in which connection has become something alien—a feeling that we can all relate to whilst we are locked inside our homes.
The painful questions the film raises about what meaning there is to be found in love and life are complemented by Hoyte van Hoytema, who is one of if not the most accomplished cinematographers working today. Further compliments are paid to those images with a score of astounding grace and sensitivity from Max Richter (which I’m listening to whilst I write this). If you’re up for it, Ad Astra is a film that’ll have you purging the anxieties of life as we now know it.
What else is there to do when we can’t travel other than to look at all the places we’ll travel to once we can? This is my not-so-guilty pleasure. My favourite pastime. Rather than attempt to catch up on lectures and readings, I turn to TikTok videos of people exploring metropolises around the world for comfort. Lost In Translation is such a comfort in its depiction of two lost souls (Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson) who find each other in the midst of a city of millions. Murray and Johansson together are perfection personified. Their chemistry is electric, yet understated. It is what simmers beneath that pains these characters, as they ponder the ‘what if’s?’. A question we are asking ourselves evermore, now that we do not have the freedoms we once had.
What is remarkable about this film is its screenplay, which is effortless in its simplicity and beauty. Imagined first, not as a script but as “little paragraphs” of impressions and experiences, Lost In Translation is able to capture the ethereal feeling of wandering aimlessly, searching for someone or something. It may be a tad slow for some, but stick with it, and you’ll be rewarded with a viewing experience that will take you on a journey through Tokyo and your soul.
Time for something different. No more feeling sorry for yourself. Good vibes only. Yes, that film is Cube, a film about people escaping cube-puzzles full of death traps. Think of this as the metaphorical equivalent of leaving your house to go to the supermarket to do your weekly shopping for the flat. With the resources at hand, a sound stage, and 1 1/2 cubes, it’s an effective original low-budget horror that more than succeeds in terrifying you with every art student’s nightmare: maths. The film has more questions than answers and is riddled with painfully obvious metaphors about society, but don’t let that sway you… it’s a cult favourite for a reason.
What is something we have been doing all our lives but never remember doing? That thing is a dream, and we are most likely doing more dreaming now than ever before. With The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, THE Ben Stiller holds his weight as director, exploring the heartwarming story of the titular character Walter Mitty. The film is a cheese-fest that will perk you right up. As Mitty, a shy photo manager, travels the world searching for a lost negative, his dreams become our dreams. As the audience, we urge him to become the person he wants to be. The film wears its heart on its sleeve and swings for the fences, occasionally falling flat on its face. However, it’s this earnestness and awkwardness that will have you falling in love with the film. It’s full of sentimental cliches, but we’ll excuse that as it’s what I think we all need right now. Just think of the film as hot chicken soup for the soul, and you won’t be disappointed.