Posted on April 12, 2017

Bokeh: Purposeless Beauty

Dawn

NR      92 mins.          Geoffrey Orthwein & Andrew Sullivan         USA                2017

Bokeh is a beautiful film, shot on location in a deserted Iceland. It’s worth watching solely for the landscape and the cinematography (by Joe Lindsay), yet there is more than that to Bokeh. Not least, it stars the talented Maika Monroe (The Guest [2014], It Follows [2014]) as well as Matt O’Leary, playing characters who respond in entirely different ways to the cataclysm that strikes them and without whose undeniable abilities the film would have fallen flat, left to depend only on its landscapes.

The film follows a young couple, Jenai and Riley, who are on a dream vacation (Riley’s dream) in Iceland. They wake up one day to find that everyone in the town, indeed seemingly everyone on the planet, is gone. The film is not about the event itself—there’s a flash in the sky and that’s it: the event is not dramatized and it’s not explained. Instead, the film is about what Jenai and Riley do once they’ve discovered that they are utterly alone and far from their home. The power is still on, the Internet is working, they have cell phone service. There are just no humans left besides themselves.

At first, the plan is easy: look for people, find food and water, find a place to live. But what do they do then? This is the big question of the film. Jenai and Riley find plenty of food and water and there’s no one trying to kill them—a fact that in the end made me appreciate why most post-apocalyptic narratives include zombies or roving gangs of psychopathic cannibals: they add drama; they add narrative urgency. Because the viewer soon realizes, as do Jenai and Riley, that there’s not a lot of point to their lives.

Jenai and Riley realize they’re alone

Bokeh includes some scenes we’re used to in post-apocalyptic narratives—not least the shopping scene, reminiscent of Dawn of the Dead (George Romero, 1978) and 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, 2002). And certainly, Jenai and Riley’s joy at having any and all consumer goods available for free is palpable, and probably shared by most viewers.

But what then? That’s the question the film relentlessly asks. Riley deals with the absence of people—the abrupt end of everything that defines modern life—much better than Jenai. He seems happy to forage for their future survival and enjoy the beauty of Iceland. But Jenai slowly collapses in on herself without people, without her family, friends, and home. She struggles to find any reason for her life: it’s like her very self is dissolving in the wake of the dissolution of the rest of the planet’s human population. For Jenai at least, self depends on others. And Riley is not enough.

Jenai drifts, then—and the wan and ethereal Monroe is perfect in this role. Along with its main character, however, the film also drifts. After Jenai and Riley end their frantic search for people, both their lives and the film start to seem directionless, purposeless—as if the narrative arc of both human lives and the film has been wrenched away.

Some viewers might have trouble with the drifting narrative of the film after about the first third, but in the end, it’s why the film is interesting. The situation Jenai and Riley find themselves in—confronting what to do with themselves, with their lives, in the absence of almost everything that had previously given their lives shape, meaning, and purpose—made me ask exactly the same question. What is the point of our lives, exactly?

I definitely recommend this film precisely for the way it makes you think about that question—and for its sheer beauty, dare I say, its purposeless beauty?

Grade: B

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