MRR Review: "Visitors"

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Director Godfrey Reggio reveals humanity's trance-like relationship with technology, which, when commandeered by extreme emotional states, produces massive effects far beyond the human species.
3.5

Rating: : Unrated
Length: 87
Release Date: January 24, 2014
Directed by: Godfrey Reggio
Genre: Documentary

"Visitors" is the latest movie from acclaimed silent film director Godfrey Reggio. It chronicles the technological dependence that characterizes modern society and how that dependence has far-reaching effects that ultimately affect the world at large and is not limited to the human species. "Visitors" was first presented at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 8, 2013, with live musical accompaniment by Phillip Glass and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

Director and writer Godfrey Reggio is renowned for his trio of experiential silent films known as the "QATSI" series which include "Koyaanisqatsi," "Powaqqatsi" and "Naqoyqatsi." "Visitors" is Reggio's first release since 2002. It carries on the tradition of image-based films that provide an artistic commentary on the dilapidation of modern society.

Reggio's latest offering documents the dependent relationship that humans have with technology. Through a series of still images, Reggio depicts how people have become hypnotized through the use of smartphones, television, video games, the Internet and other technologies. This trance-like state, when combined with intense emotional states has far-reaching effects.

"Visitors" is composed of what Reggio calls "moving pictures." Seventy-four sumptuously photographed black-and-white stills spend about one minute each on screen before moving to the next one. The images are shot with 4K digital projection, resulting in rich, clear and profoundly detailed pictures.

The slow progression of the stills evokes a number of emotional responses, from restlessness when staring at a particularly poignant image for too long, to relief when one picture moves to the next. This unique viewing experience requires the audience to be patient and mindful, savoring and contemplating each emotionally rich photograph rather than mentally racing to the end of the film. Reggio insists, and rightfully so, that "Visitors" is meant to be experienced; viewers who spend time trying to figure out the idea of the film might miss the film's point.

Most of the images are of faces. The film opens with the face of a lowland gorilla named Triska looking into the camera. Every detail of Triska's face, including individual strands of hair, can be seen, presenting the primate in a way that human audiences have likely never seen before. This creates a sense of intimacy and wonder. Older people, their faces etched with age, are featured as well as smooth-skinned youngsters. A variety of people are shown depicting a range of human emotions, such as the image of an infuriated little girl and the still of a room full of grown men cheering while watching a sports game.

Other shots include children playing video games or people waiting to board trains at subway stations. Many of the images show people interacting with some type of technology. Some images are shot sequentially, depicting rapid changes in emotion or quick changes in perspective. Some people are shown looking off into a space that is hidden from the audience, creating a sense of mystery.

Reggio also includes pictures of empty space. These include moon landscape shots, pictures of abandoned warehouses, empty amusement parks and nature shots. These are especially pleasing because their rich texture is accentuated by the 4K resolution. Reggio also affects certain scenes before shooting. For example, some people are pictured interacting with smartphones and tablets whose frames have been removed.

"Visitors" is, at its heart, a cinematic opportunity for introspection. It is best approached with an open mind and a willingness to be challenged. This cinematic experience is evocative, complex and summons an array of responses. Everyone who watches the film has something different to say about it.

The film has a meditative quality. The combination of brilliantly composed orchestral music swelling in accord with powerful imagery invites viewers to transcend to a different state of awareness. This seems to be true in both a literal and figurative sense. Part of the film's purpose is to encourage the viewer to take a new perspective. As Reggio put it in the event program that accompanied the film's first showing, "The content of 'Visitors' is the reciprocal gaze. The frame, a portal of light that incorporates the audience into the film, returns the viewer's look." The concept of the "reciprocal gaze" puts "Visitors" in a class by itself, placing it in the realm of high art.

This silent depiction of modern life almost transcends the use of words. As one of the most powerful and ground-breaking films in recent history, it is certain to be remembered as a one-of-a-kind cinematic experience that offers audiences something they have never seen before and might not ever see again. Reggio's work is an achievement, and "Visitors" is certainly worthy of the same acclaim as his "QATSI" series, if not more so.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5