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Visitors, a documentary directed by avantgardist Godfrey Reggio and presented by Steven Soderbergh, is about technology and its ability to send us into a stupor, which results in “massive effects far beyond the human species.” Or it’s about bananas. The first is the film’s official summary, but either choice is arguably valid because this kind of bullshit—served with a high-mindedness that should require viewers to wear a monocle, just like blockbusters require 3-D glasses—is so utterly without context that you can interpret it any way you like.
Actually, the word the studio uses isn’t “stupor” but “trancelike,” and the film itself will lull you, if it doesn’t put you to sleep. More conceptual art than documentary, the 87-minute, Warholian production is accompanied not by dialogue but only Philip Glass’ score, which mostly ranges from solemn to forlorn. (This is Reggio and Glass’ fourth collaboration; the first was Koyaanisqatsi.) Its 74 images are black and white, beginning with a fade-in of a gorilla face. Then it switches to predominantly human faces, each person usually solo, staring at or just to the side of the camera. Reggio also drops in time-lapsed shots of skyscrapers, with clouds zipping by; flocks of birds; an abandoned amusement park; a marionette. Occasionally he includes groups, such as a scene in which people seem to be watching a sporting event. He takes us to the moon.
The experimental spectacle of Visitors, presented in 4K digital projection, would be better suited to a gallery than a theater. If you do want to see it, its effect—regardless of the meaning you deduce—will be much more pronounced and powerful on a big screen than a DVD. (Go now; it probably won’t stick around long.) Some images have a creepy quality, such as that marionette. But there are only a few that link to the film’s intention. Most of them are disembodied hands, posed or moving as if they were using a mouse or a trackpad. One pair initially seems to be typing but are more likely playing a piano.
But how any of these represent the extreme ramifications of our obsession with tech toys is a mystery. Near the end, Reggio presents the gorilla again. But this time the camera pulls away until you can see that the gorilla is in a film within this film, with a packed theater watching it. How meta! How droll! How little it speaks to humanity’s relationship with technology.