Directed by Geoffrey Orthwein and Andrew Sullivan, Bokeh is a beautifully understated Sci-Fi movie about the last two humans and what life might mean in that end of days context.
Jenai (Maika Monroe) and Riley (Matt O’Leary), a young couple from America, take a romantic trip of a lifetime to Iceland, and only the first day is “normal.” Deep into that first night, Jenai wakes up, goes over to the hotel window, sees what looks like the Aurora Borealis, and then a flash of light that spreads across the screen. She goes back to sleep. The next day, as they walk through town, she and Riley quickly learn everyone else has disappeared. There are no humans, anywhere, just the beautiful Icelandic landscape of mountains, springs, waterfalls, flowers and empty homes and stores.
They do many of the things you’d expect. They go from store to store to get tools, water, food and other essentials. They take two SUVs so they haul their goods and travel across the island. There’s even an element of sudden, unexpected “freedom” involved in this, a kind of liberation to transgress that brings them at least brief moments of joy. Dancing. Mock fighting. Drinking in an empty bar. The world really is their oyster for a time, but along with the sense of liberation, there’s no escaping the absence of human life, though there are living horses, at least. Jenai, in a beautifully filmed moment, watches a herd of wild horses and rides one, lovingly, as if they had grown up together.
The film uses dialogue sparingly. It shows much more than it tells. And because it does this, because it doesn’t tell the viewer what to think, or when, we can jump into the situations depicted and ask and sometimes answer, “What would we do?” given the facts of a likely apocalypse. What steps would we take to survive, if we chose to go on at all? How would the knowledge of the absence of all other human life impact our decisions? The writers and directors of Bokeh — a word taken from Japanese to mean the blurring effects in photography (best represented by portraiture) — barely touch upon the metaphysics of apocalypse, though they give Jenai a few moments of spiritual questing. But as the movie proceeds, the underlying reasons for the catastrophe become less and less important, as another looms. What becomes clearer, via subtle hints and changes, is the divergent perspective of the last two humans, the different ways they view landscapes here and back in America, devoid of family, friends and others — the radically different way they view the potentialities of life in its last gasp.
Riley, with his old-timey camera, seems strangely okay at first, relatively speaking, with what has happened, at least to the point of wanting to make the best of it. He tells Jenai they can still have a good life, and when he said that, in that moment I thought how wildly different such a concept suddenly became. It would be the last life. They wouldn’t be handing off to another generation. Living out their days wouldn’t be within a “normal” frame of doing that. It wouldn’t hold the same kind of meaning as an unbroken chain of life, before, during and after, where believer and non-believer alike could both assume the story will go on. There won’t be any more to the story. No one will read about Jenai and Riley or see his photos. No one will ever read, or hike, or make love, or see the world as humans do ever again.
For Jenai, the far more spiritual of the two, this absence of continuity is profoundly problematic. As long as there is some hope that others, somewhere, might have survived like they have, she has more than enough strength to go on. But when it becomes more and more clear to her, via the absence of new TV shows, changes to Internet sites, email, voicemail and all the ways we communicate in the 21st century, her strength seems to fade. She goes into herself more than Riley does, at least as far as we can see, and she seems to need more than Riley can give to her. She needs to go home, and that’s impossible.
The movie stayed with me for several days, and seemed to grow beyond first impressions. With many a film, with much louder, more overt attempts to hook us, the initial viewing is better than thoughts later over coffee. Bokeh had the opposite affect on me: I liked it while watching it, but the more I thought about it, the more I appreciated what it was trying to be, to ask, to get us to think ab0ut.
The blur of life. How much do we miss as we live it? How much do we just ignore? How much do we have to ignore in order to function, and isn’t there something deeply flawed and unevolved in us that we have to “discriminate” so much in that way? Our focus is scattered, chaotic all too often. Furtive, shaky. And without art to get us to really slow down, stop, wait, attend to . . . really see, do we even “live” at all?