Runtime: 120 Minutes
Director: Ulrich Köhler
Writer: Ulrich Köhler
Stars: Hans Löw, Elena Radonicich, Michael Wittenborn
*GO INTO THIS FILM KNOWING NOTHING; DON’T EVEN WATCH THE TRAILER-. MILD SPOILERS AHEAD (Mild because everything revealed here is present in the trailer)
In this quiet, sweet little German flick, ‘tis the end of humanity as we know it. Time and time again we’ve seen Hollywood emphasize, in many terrifying ways, just how something like this could come about: invading aliens, nuclear warfare, immense natural disasters… yet none of that (at least none seen in the context of this story at least) is seen here. Humanity just disappears; one could probably argue this film takes place in the same universe where Thanos’ snap severely depopulates the world (it would be nice to think about how this was how some human beings lived their lives in the 5 years it took for the Avengers to get their you-know-what together, but I digress). No Hollywood junk to be found here, just pure truths and insights which are inherent in all humans; which exist in both the context of the hectic day-to-day lives we all lead, and the fictional scenario presented here.
This story about existential fear and desolate solitude premiered in 2018 at the Cannes film festival in the Un Certain Regard section wherein it was rightfully well-received. The first act sets up the story like any typical European art film/Sofia Coppola drama; a character living a mundane existence, dripping with ennui; in the pursuit of meaning in the doldrums of his tedious existence. Armin (Hans Löw), a bachelor is revealed to have parents who no longer get along, a dying grandmother, and no love life; he engages in casual hookups, yet doesn’t necessarily know the essence of having a true connection with another person (the song he plays when he and his hookup of the night–played by Katharina Linder–arrives at his apartment is quite telling).
“In My Room” is, in some ways, the science-fiction equivalent of Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere”.
Seemingly overnight, everyone disappears; what’s interesting about this unnerving survivalist drama is how we get to follow Armin before and after the rest of humanity mysteriously disappears. Armin lives a contradiction; a world overflowing with possibilities, a life free of laws and judgement, a world wherein he can do anything he pleases… yet, one which feels just as small and lonely as the one he had already been in. Armin silently accepts and comes to term with this quiet apocalypse; what happens after is an elegant character study. One which probably wouldn’t have been as effective if the film hadn’t let us get to know his character in its first 35 minutes, while still in the context of a massively populated Earth. “In My Room” is, in some ways, the science-fiction equivalent of Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere”.
Armin’s story is one of emptiness; one which may frustrate viewers with a lack of explanations. Those willing to patiently wait it out until the end–and I highly recommend you do–will be rewarded with a resonant tale told with ambient sound design and silent, expressive performances which convey many potent human truths. Seeing Armin navigate this new world (by building a shelter, caring for animals, and getting more physically fit to meet the demands of living in a remote setting) is pretty much what the entire second act is dedicated to–it’s all very contained and microscopic in scale when compared to other films which have dealt with the same themes.
“This story about existential fear and desolate solitude premiered in 2018 at the Cannes film festival in the Un Certain Regard section wherein it was rightfully well-received.”
Armin also has to deal with the emotional baggage he brought with him into this world; his fear of commitment, his neglectfulness for his own personal wellbeing (I wanted to yell at the screen at one point for him to cover up his damn leg wound! In a world without doctors, how in the hell was he not alarmed by that horrific laceration!?), and his fear of leaving his comfort zone. Despite his newfound (or newly reawakened?) self-sufficiency, he doesn’t seem to have any desire to explore anything beyond his little corner of the world.
This all comes into play when he meets another survivor–strong-willed, independent Kirsi (Elena Radonicich) who desperately needs human connection, yet can’t reconcile staying in one place for too long. An unlikely attraction slowly builds between them–one of the film’s most beautiful scenes involves a dance in a gas station, lit with the headlights of a truck. The way it’s filmed makes it look so alive–the joys of being alive are so richly conveyed in this sequence. It overflows with rapturing joy and the happiness which comes from simply being born in a human body, with access to a person’s higher faculties of thought, love, and gratitude.
In spite of all this, their relationship as one which plays out like how any would, had it taken place in normal circumstances. Starting off with excitement and passion, yet slowly devolving into scepticism, small bursts of resentment, and disagreement. The film concludes having painted a picture of a man who–once was burdened by the fast-paced, turbulently changing demands of the real world–is put in a situation where he, for the most part, is left alone with his thoughts. His days are filled with reflection and survival. It’s in this time where this uncommonly subtle character study asks us: does the culture we live in truly let us get to know ourselves, or other people for that matter?