Vivarium (2019)

30 Oct 2021 02:15 - 18 May 2024 01:34
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    • I place this movie in a very small category of movies which so powerfully transmit an idea that they are in some sense masterpieces, but the idea itself is so bad that they are extremely unpleasant to watch. They are more effective horrors than any horror movie, because they are capable of getting inside somehow.
    • The only other movie I can think of for this group is Funny Games. Movies that you are better off not seeing, that I kind of regret seeing, but it's too late, they are part of me now. They are the cinematic equivalents of Roko's Basilisk, and if you are reading this I should apologize for infecting you, but really, you don't have to go watch either of these.
    • The only reason I watched it was my affiliation, long ago, with the Vivarium Project. There weren't a whole lot of thematic reasonances, other than both were about forms of artificial life. But the older vivarium had the goal of allowing learners to create something that exhibits liveliness or at least models it. This movie was more of a horror story in which an imposed artificial system displaces, corrupts, parodies and destroys real life. Kind of a different vibe, although both play with the boundary between the living and the mechanical.
    • The plot is fairly minimal: a young couple go house-hunting and meet up with a creepy realtor who takes them to a surreal development of identical lime-green houses, called "Yonder". Once there, the realtor disappears, and they find themselves unable to leave. Eventually strange packages start arriving, one containing a baby with instructions to raise it. The baby turns out to be some kind of weird monster who eventually takes over and destroys what little life they have left.
    • Most reviewers seem to think of it as a critique of the artificiality and characterlessness of suburban family life. But that is hardly a message that has to be repeated at this late date, eveybody knows the suburbs are phony and anomie-inducing, to mock them is cliche. The movie really kind of fails at that anyway, it's too abstract, too asocial (there are an infinite number of houses in Yonder, but no other people). No, it seems to be about something more elemental than the suburbs, like capitalism or maybe even reproduction or replication as such.
    • The couple, like the birds exploited by a cuckoo, find themselves forced into taking care of some alien creature that mimics a human child, exploiting and savagely parodying their parental instincts. The couple is fully aware of having their lives colonized by an invading force but are helpless to do anything but participate in this mockery of authentic life.
    • What did the little girl say in the opening part, where she finds some dead fledgling birds on the ground, ejected from their nest by a cuckoo? "I don't like the way things are, it's horrible".
    • Brood parasitism is a particularly horrible bit of nature, and maybe the movie is just dramatizing that horror. But if that was all that was going on, you'd include the horrible kid, but why would you need an infinite empty housing development? No, there's a pretty unsubtle message here about the emptiness of everyday life, how artificiality drains the zest and substance from the world and replaces it with something fake, and how ordinary people find themselves trapped in fake forms of life.