“That’s just the way things are.”
From the telling opening sequence until the depressing finale, Vivarium makes a distinct point of reading then showing the complex, parasitic fine print details between warblers and cuckoo birds, relating them to – and offering commentary on – the predatory nature and gross purview of our monopolistic, money bags worldview. And as this modern day, feature length take on The Twilight Zone tumbles further and further down its rabbit hole, it only becomes more abundantly clear that Vivarium is a movie guided by memorable messengers who chirp and share what it wants to say. The words ring loud and clear. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.
The film opens with cranky, hungry, craning chicks pushed from their nest and then lazily buried by the harsh human hands of Tom (Jesse Eisenberg), a custodial super at the same quasi European school where his more empathetic partner Gemma (Imogen Poots) teaches young children. She’s the feminine nurture to his masculine nature. They make each other laugh though, and see a potential future where the two become one. And so they’re led to Yonder – an aseptic and scarily symmetrical housing development – by the hopelessly awkward and inhuman real estate agent Martin (Jonathan Aris). Vivarium’s plot thickens when Martin disappears, leaving the hapless couple to circle unmarked streets until the car’s tank runs empty, ultimately hunkering down and surviving in number 9. Then a newborn baby arrives outside. It’s literal entrapment.
Tom and Gemma need answers. He looks towards the tangible aspects of a life that’s been revoked, climbing a roof to see an endless sea of green homes in a plasticine world and digging a hole deep down into the falsely fabricated earth. Opposite of Tom’s pressing thumb is Gemma, desperately trying to understand and empathize with this alien boy dropped off at their door. Vivarium is such an oblique, vexing, exaggerated yet thoughtful depiction of life’s many frustrations in this regard. Being in a relationship is hard. The mortgage or rent induces and exacerbates anxiety. An unplanned baby cranks the dial up to 11. Life has a tendency to have a snowball effect in that way, and Vivarium pokes fun at the very notion and act of parenting with a cattle prod and a message worth hearing. How you react to a wailing child says more about you than it does about them.
I have to admit that I had never heard the word Vivarium before watching Lorcan Finnegan’s fast-paced, edgy, exploitative film. It makes sense. To say that it’s aptly titled is a dramatic understatement; to call it one of the year’s best thus far is deserving. This movie sticks to your bones, penetrates your mind by going in one ear without exiting the other, and best of all, gives you enough answers to keep asking questions whilst filling in the blanks and the occasional cracks. Vivarium is my favorite kind of science fiction. It’s distant but exists in a place within a reasonable reach. It has the brains to be about something, whether it be capitalism, nativism, or even socialism. And it has the audacity to navigate these lanes before finishing in an unnerving, contrarian, fatalistic fashion. The condemnation is earned.
“This house is forever.”
Rating: 4.5 out of 5