Monday, March 20, 2017

Bokeh: Doomsday in Iceland

Is it the rapture or some weird Icelandic tradition? Two American tourists wake one morning to find they are perhaps the only people left in Iceland and perhaps the entire world. At least the streets are clean and the automated geothermal power will hold out longer than fossil fuel plants. One will try to make the best of it, but the other will see the apocalypse as definitely a “glass half empty” kind of event in Geoffrey Orthwein & Andrew Sullivan’s Bokeh (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Riley was really stretching to fund this trip, but in retrospect, they could have gone first class all the way. Regardless, both he and Jenai were enjoying Iceland’s stunning natural scenery and distinctive architecture, until the end of the world happens. They just wake up one morning and everyone is gone. There are no bodies or heaps of clothes left behind. The internet still works, but social media is completely silent.

Initially, they are distracted by short term concerns and anticipating long term issues. However, around about the second act, fissures start to develop in their relationship. Riley is almost happy to accept an Adam & Eve existence with Jenai in the sensible Icelandic environment. In contrast, she is increasingly depressed by the notion everyone else she knows is apparently dead or relocated to the Hale-Bopp Comet.

The word “Bokeh” refers to the area of a photograph that is out of focus, often deliberately so for artistic effect. Even if you know Riley is an amateur photographer, who compulsively snaps away with his old school Rolleiflex, Bokeh is just a terrible title that is guaranteed to hinder the film’s business. That is a shame, because it is a pretty credible addition to the apocalyptic cinema canon. In fact, it would make a good pairing with von Trier’s Melancholia (essentially arguing the opposite thesis, regarding personality types under catastrophic stress).

It is still rather baffling that It Follows' Maika Monroe has not reached a JLaw level of popularity yet. Granted, the Independence Day sequel did not work out the way her people probably expected, but still. Bokeh is too small (and bafflingly titled) to take her to the next level, but it won’t embarrass her when she finally gets there. It is considerably moodier and more existential than Night of the Comet (the gold standard for last-people-on-Earth movies), but it works nicely as a chamber piece.

Monroe and Matt O’Leary develop some richly complex chemistry together, conveying a sense of Jenai and Riley’s significant shared history. The Icelandic setting, with its orderly streets and aesthetically severe Lutheran churches, is genuinely inspired. It resembles Planet Ikea, but with geysers. Cinematographer Joe Lindsay perfectly capitalizes on the icy loneliness of the backdrops, making the survivors look as small as they feel.

The ending is bound to be divisive, but upon reflection, audiences should accept the rightness of it all. It is a surprisingly accomplished film that deserves more eyeballs than the headscratcher title is likely to generate. Recommended for fans of doomsday movies, Bokeh opens this Friday (3/24) in New York, at the Cinema Village.