“You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes…” ~ James 4:14
I recently sat down to experience Godfrey Reggio’s latest collaboration with Philip Glass, entitled Visitors. It is a documentary, but not in the traditional sense of the word. It is an abstract collage composed of 74 slow-moving shots of various individuals (including a gorilla) staring back at us.
For the average moviegoer, this would seem impossible to sit through. True, this film demands much from its intended audience. It requires patience and commitment. In the end, I have to say, it is well worth it.
As the film progresses, we meet several different people from all ages and genders. Their faces reveal so much about who they are that words seem meaningless. We never see what they are watching or what they are reacting to, but we witness the span of human emotion throughout the course of the film. Intercut with these scenes are moments of pure transcendence, as Reggio literally takes us to the moon and back to Earth again. We see an abandoned amusement park, seagulls taking flight, a weeping willow in full bloom, and shots of clouds rapidly moving past tall buildings. We see how the human body interacts with modern technology – the seemingly arbitrary ways that our hands move around computer keyboards and mouse pads. For the entire running time, a brand-new sweeping orchestral score from composer, Philip Glass, carries us along.
All of this seems to suggest that we are merely “visitors” on this planet, here for a season and then gone like the mist. Many of the people that we will meet in this film, both young and old, dare to expose their souls to us. Some of them seem to communicate the message, “Make the most of your time here. Life is a journey. See and feel everything while you still can.” Reggio drives this point home when he cuts to a two minute shot of a mannequin flailing around lifelessly in a black void. The vivid expressions of the other subjects are absent. For these two minutes, the intricacies of the soul are sorely missed. Some people do indeed move through their lives like the mannequin in this sequence, closed off from the human experience. Reggio is begging us to do exactly the opposite.
Reggio has stated in interviews that Visitors is “aimed at the solar plexus, at the appetite within us all, the atmosphere of the soul.” This film is not mere entertainment. This film is meant to jolt you in all the right ways. Give in to it.