In one of the first of the 74 shots comprising Godfrey Reggio’s transfixing new film “Visitors,” the camera glides along a sleek building, upon which is inscribed “NOVUS ORDO SECLORUM”—Latin for “the new order of the ages.” On the Great Seal of the United States, this phrase was famously intended to hail the dawning of a new era for the nation. The motto, however, becomes naggingly ominous when seen juxtaposed with the movie’s hypnotic array of dark, dreamy images concerning humanity, myths, and monsters. The film asks where humankind is headed as we become more reliant on technology.
Reggio has rallied against technology’s ability to subtly warp human experience since 1973, when his work with Santa Fe campaign Ten Years and Counting included utilizing a variety of platforms—television spots, billboards, hot-air balloons—in a campaign focused on “the use of technology to control behavior.”
Reggio’s film, like his oeuvre, is intriguingly spartan. As with 1982’s seminal “Koyaanisqatsi,” Reggio does away with dialogue and instead marries his images with an alternately delicate and assaulting score composed by stalwart collaborator Philip Glass. The shots are filmed in austere black and white, move in slow motion, and do not follow a traditional plot. Often, there are moments where one is not sure what one is looking at, but is then struck with moments of clarity—the trees are drops of ink in water, the snowbank the face of the moon. Less decipherable, however, are the tech-addled human subjects of “Visitors.” They stare down the camera, their miens utterly, unnervingly blank. Through Reggio’s lens, the human face slowly becomes alien and grotesque.
Reggio’s explorations of nature and technology are often referred to as “experimental films,” but the director finds this reductive.
“They’re not experiments,” he said. “These films are called experimental, because ... they don’t fit into any available category.”
Reggio intends for his films to “elicit the aesthetic triplets that reside in you, me, and every human on the planet: sensation, motion, and perception,” he said. “It’s to engage in a dialogue with those triplets. The real subject of the film is the person watching the film.”
The most memorable performer in the film is perhaps newcomer and Bronx native Triska. Her unwavering glare is gorgeously intimidating, and her work in the final scene of the film is powerful enough to make you question the very act of going to the movies. She’ll be overlooked come awards season, however, as she’s a lowland gorilla from the Bronx Zoo. Reggio deeply appreciates his atypical leading lady.
“To paraphrase [anthropologist] Loren Eiseley: We have not seen ourselves until we have been seen through the eyes of another animal.”