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The end of the world as metaphor for the isolation of what maddening true loves feels like might not exactly be anything new in film, and indeed, shaping romance around a strange or disturbing event has been an integral part of cinema. Movies have long tried to make lovers feel like they are the only two people in the world. With Bokeh, that feeling becomes literal as two young lovers are indeed the last humans on the planet in this ambitious, intimate story that has more to say about being in love than being the only ones left.
While enjoying the scenic beauty of the Icelandic seaside, Americans Jenai (Maika Monroe) and Riley (Matt O’Leary) take tours and pictures of the sites, Riley one who rejects modern photography for old fashioned film. The two are truly enraptured by the experience and arrive back at their hotel exhausted but happy. Before sleeping, Jenai witnesses an unusual aurora borealis event and then, in the morning, the two discover that the city is empty, the people seemingly vanished. Exploring, they find it is everywhere, cars stopped in drive on the streets, the internet down, television stations no longer broadcasting, and no one, anywhere in the world … here. They are entirely alone. And while it is curious and frightening at first, they come to accept and then struggle to understand what has happened.
Directed by Geoffrey Orthwein and Andrew Sullivan, Bokeh–a photography term for the blurred portions in a focused image–is a curious little film that is a metaphorical journey of course, one made in earnest that is less about the message and more about the relationship. As the reality of their situation settles upon them, truths emerge and interpretations about why they are alone divide them.
Contemplating possible explanations, Jenai comes to see their fate as more ominous, especially as the weeks pass and things like being trapped forever on the island are terrifying, not to mention the fact that they must live in constant and extreme care since there are no doctors or emergency services. Riley is the opposite, taking the opportunity of isolation as a means to treat the place like a playground, taking risks to his health, causing confrontations.
The movie becomes a kind of walking breakdown as they deal with external shutdowns, such as water and electricity that have profound effect on their internal coping mechanisms. The gaps that seems trivial at first widen to chasms as the two seek isolation from each other, the fall of mankind imagined in two failing lovers. As they walk about the gorgeous landscape, they hit an impasse on the site of an abandoned derelict airplane decaying in barren black sands, he seeing great beauty in the image and she a representation of they themselves.
It’s moments like this that make Bokeh its most challenging, and asks us to consider larger questions and as the two seek their own answers, the film begins to drift as it seems unsure where it wants to go itself. There are a few contrived moments of false tension and their are some lengthy stretches of introspective moments as the two go touring about the countryside and at one point, make a discovery that would seem to bring them closer but only divides them further.
Both Monroe and O’Leary are good, with Monroe particularly strong, proving again that she is truly one to watch. The film doesn’t strike quite as impactful as the story would seem to demand, its ending ambiguous and abrupt yet undeniably final, but it has resonance in an unbroken shot as the credits roll. Relationships are, like the landscape of the setting, turbulent and beautiful.
Movie description: Bokeh is a 2017 science fiction drama about a couple who travel to Iceland for a romantic getaway, only to wake one morning to discover everyone on the planet has disappeared.
Director(s): Geoffrey Orthwein, Andrew Sullivan
Actor(s): Maika Monroe, Matt O'Leary, Arnar Jónsson
Genre: Drama, Science Fiction