Written by O'Brian Gunn
How can an object/concept/person be simultaneously within arm’s reach and so terribly far away? This is one of the many questions Pete Ohs tackles in Everything Beautiful Is Far Away. In the film, Lernert has grown tired of the noise and suffocation that come with living in a city packed shoulder to shoulder with so many people. To that end, he takes to what I call the “full emptiness” of the desert with his android, Susan, who is whittled down to just a head by the desert sand. Along the way, they’re joined by a young woman named Rola. Together, the three set off in search of the fabled Crystal Lake. (Not to worry, there aren’t any hockey-masked murderers at this particular Crystal Lake.)
One of the first things I have to say about Everything Beautiful Is Far Away is the fact that it’s a simple, flowing movie. It only has four characters from beginning to end (counting Susan), there are no jerky-cam ridden action scenes, it doesn’t go out of its way to try to shock or amaze you, and it doesn’t try to reinvent the cinematic wheel. The movie can best be described as a lazy Saturday afternoon lounging outside with a psychologist, philosopher, bohemian, and an indie musician passing a blunt.
Let’s start with the characters. Lernert is a logical as frak, by-the-book, no-words-wasted character. At times, I wondered if he was an android himself (not going to say whether it turns out he is). It’s hard to say if he’s low-key misanthropic or introverted, or if he just prefers the company of androids to humans. Other than the fact that he once lived in the city and emigrated to the desert where he built Susan, the movie doesn’t give us much of his backstory (more on that aspect later).
We first meet Rola when Lernert finds her sprawled out in the sand, foaming at the mouth as the result of eating dactyl root instead of kernyptus root, differentiated only by a green ring. The always-prepared Lernert saves her and instructs her on the difference between dactyl and kernyptus root. Rola rebukes Lernert’s efforts to connect with her, making sure he gives her plenty of physical space, takes her meager supplies, and resumes her journey. She and Lernert reunite when it’s her turn to find him sprawled out unconscious. Rola helps him...but not before rifling through his belongings to see what kind of person she’s dealing with. Rola finds something that makes her want to trust Lernert, and from there, the two set out together in search of the mythical Crystal Lake...and parts for Susan’s new body.
There’s a lot of symbolism to dive into with this film. Mainly, I feel it’s an examination of the multiple layers of distance that divide us as human beings. The movie gives us plenty of wide shots that draw attention to how near or far objects are. With the lack of character backstory in this flick (something I’ve remarked on in past reviews), it got me thinking: This is a film that mirrors how we can meet someone for a season who serves a purpose in getting us to where we need to be in life, all without us learning more than immediate, surface information about this person before s/he fades into the background. That’s how it is when we first meet our two main characters, but the film and story make it so that we really don’t need to know a lot about Lernert and Rola’s pasts. It’s almost like we can see their blurred backstories winding behind them in the undulating depths of the sand dunes. We have to use their present actions to attempt to bring their pasts into focus.
An additional theme the movie gracefully grazes includes the subtle programming we’re subject to in our day-to-day lives. Just as Susan is programmed with specific, manufactured emotions regarding Lernert - we, too, can be programmed for certain knee-jerk responses during certain situations. Immediately responding with “fine/good” (or “well,” if ya nasty) when someone asks how we are, even if we’re going through a small snarl of emotional turmoil, or even asking someone how they are when we don’t give anything resembling a damn regarding their feelings. How would we be deprogrammed/reprogrammed if we lived in the desert for a few years and hardly came into contact with another human being?
I’d also like to touch on the film’s soundtrack, scored by Alan Palomo of Neon Indians. Much like water in the desert, musical beats are few and far between, but when we stumble upon them, they’re wonderfully refreshing. I can only describe the overall feel of the soundtrack as “delightfully indie.” The beats are effervescent, dynamic, and...intimate. I can easily imagine myself listening to the soundtrack while working or reading.
I didn’t know what to expect when I started watching Everything Beautiful Is Far Away, but I enjoyed where Pete Ohs took me, and how he took me there. The next time you find yourself with some free time and in a mood for a solid indie flick, check it out for yourself. Maybe you’ll find that distant, fully realized beauty you can see but not touch is just as enjoyable as imminent delights.
Runtime: 91 minutes
Recommend Buy, Rent, or Skip: Rent (or stream on Hulu)/Buy (I say this because a single viewing may be enough for you, or you may want to buy it and share it with your friends and family again and again)
Next Up: The Strange Tale of Panorama Island, by Suehiro Maruo, is a pulpy manga centered on a novelist named Hitomi, who fakes his death to impersonate the recently deceased son of a wealthy industrialist family. The intrigue mounts as Hitomi drapes himself in the industrialist’s fortune, company, and marriage. What mysteries await in this tale of horror, the grotesque, and...“perverse aims?”