A trance-like meditation on humanity’s relationship with technology, Godfrey Reggio’s non-narrative documentary Visitors (2013) is an anthropological examination of postmodernity and capitalism’s affects on human evolution. A poetic montage of intensely moving imagery, the profundity of Reggio’s latest allows the audience to study themselves through the eyes of another, and in doing so attempt to understand the essence of our nature. Visitors is Reggio’s first film in over a decade after his Qatsi Trilogy, concluding in 2002 with Naqoyqatsi. The trio wowed audiences, with their hypnotic sequences of time-lapse photography and slow motion coalescing beautifully with Phillip Glass’ intense scores.
Beginning on the surface of our orbiting moon, Reggio allows us to once again study humanity, this time through the eyes of a visitor. The film consists of 74 beautifully composed shots, each lasting anywhere from one minute to three. Shot in black and white and in stunning 4K ultra high definition adds tremendous depth to the faces of Reggio’s subjects, and the crumbling architecture of the Katrina damaged Louisiana landscape. We eerily observe these wordless faces as they stare back at us – although it soon transpires they’re watching films, television or playing computer games. Its like a tractor beam working both ways, with this convergence of technology and biology emphasising a growing reliance on new technologies to overcome our own natural physical limitations.
Stylistically and thematically similar to Abbas Kiarostami’s Shirin (2008) and Nicolas Philibert’s Nénette (2010), Visitors is a wordless meditation on the human condition that attempts to delve beyond the surface in order to undertake a deeper examination. With its focus on the audience being watched by the very subject they’re watching culminates in a sensuous and slightly unnerving viewing experience. Reggio’s formal composition narrows our focus and unlike the erratic pace of life captured in his Qatsi Trilogy the film takes a more, languid, corporeal vantage towards technology’s dominant role in our lives. One of the film’s more fascinating sequences is of a series of hands contorted around invisible devices, showing how our bodies are rapidly becoming reconfigured to suit this new step in human evolution. However there’s no escaping that due to the commercial appropriation of Reggio’s technique by advertisers and music video directors, some of the film’s more stylised sequences feel artificial, almost like a form of self-parody.
Glass’ brooding score, combined with Reggio’s penchant for long, sustained takes, calls to mind the austere and provocative cinema of Béla Tarr and Tsai Ming-liang, whose fondness for slow, pensive narratives allows audience to deconstruct the scene and search for greater meaning. This incredibly divisive approach may ask very few questions, yet its minimalist approach leads the audience into vast, unremitting chasm of theoretical ideas. Indeed this is cinema for those of an inquisitive mind, an arresting cine- document that probes beyond the superficiality of modern life and forces the audience to ask questions not just about themselves but the entire world. Your own enjoyment of Visitors will depend greatly on your willingness to explore behind the films ostentatious and aesthetic façade. For those that accept the challenge they might just uncover the mystery behind the evanescence of life and how to begin accepting our seemingly insignificant role within the flickering light of human existence.