If Terrence Malick and Franz Kafka decided to get married, and then adopted an old wooden crate full of reels of stock footage as their baby, that offspring would look something like Night Has Come. Director Peter Van Goethem has cut together a plethora of Royal Belgian Film Archive stock footage to tell the story of a dystopian society plagued with a memory-erasing virus. Making use of overly poetic, often vague narration, Night Has Come unfolds like a memory of a fever dream, burning its way through your brain as you drift in and out of consciousness.
“Life itself is a disease that can be treated.” So says the mysterious narrator of Night Has Come, Peter Van Goethem’s curious, haunting stock footage extravaganza. The imagery assembled here seems at once related and completely unconnected. Black and white scenes of idyllic families at a beach. Rubble of bombed-out cities. Riots of men with unlit cigarettes clenched between their teeth. Couples strolling hand-in-hand down pathways, out of focus. Museum guards strolling through completely empty buildings, passing exhibits of taxidermy. Taken on their own, these images are innocuous, even humdrum.
But as assembled by Van Goethem, they take on an ominous, often horrifying air. Our narrator is represented in extreme close-up by footage of an elderly man, his craggy face a roadmap of age, as lined and cracked as a dry desert. We’re meant to believe this is the man talking to us, although we never see him open his mouth. He simply stares off into some unknown source of light, a look of unrelenting sadness in his dark eyes.
Through his words, we learn of a virus that robs people of their memories. The very lives of people everywhere are being stolen; eradicated; evaporated. Where did the virus come from? Was it engineered by the government to keep people in check? Does it even exist at all? There are no answers here. There is merely the narration – the voice of an ancient man longing for a world he can no longer recall. The stock footage images flash before his eyes (and ours), and he wonders: who are these people? Are any of them me? Are these my personal experiences – or the experiences of others? Are they real at all, or half-remembered dreams?
Night Has Come has no traditional structure. It ignores the rules of storytelling and instead attempts a kind of Malick-like tone poem – vague, dreamy, evocative narration that can be interpreted as thoughtful, or just full-blown pretension. This is very much a “your mileage may vary” movie. Even at a slim 56 minutes, there will be a certain type of moviegoer who will grow tired with the formless, hazy dream Van Goethem has cobbled together. And yet, the lack of direction is a feature, not a bug.
Like the unnamed narrator, we have no idea where this story is going, or where it came from. What are these images? Who are these people, clearly inhabiting a past that must’ve existed in an alternate world, or alternate universe? The official production notes for the film state that the director pieced together something that “alternates between amateur footage and footage of historical events that took place in Brussels.” But Brussels is never mentioned in the film itself. This is some sort of world we have never known, and yet, it’s a world that will soon find us all. The only clear answer here is that the end is near – for all of us. We need no fictional virus to erase our memories. Time – and age – will do that work for us.
/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10
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