Ryan Powell, Community and Education Officer for Picturehouses reviews this week’s Discover Tuesdays’ title, Homo Sapiens.
With Homo Sapiens, director Nikolaus Geyrhalter has constructed a documentary that is set in the future. Every shot is of a real place in the world in its current state. However, the cumulative effect of the shots of abandoned spaces devoid of people is to build a picture of our planet’s future beyond imagined post-apocalyptic dystopias, where humans have long ceased to exist.
Watching the film, you become conscious of the ethnocentricity of the way we perceive and interact with the world. We crave human presence. With each new shot we are waiting for a person to enter the scene, to interact with the objects, to move through the space, to give a human narrative to what we are seeing. But in truth, the fundamentals of the scene would not be changed if people were there, only our own focus. Normally a backdrop, the nonhuman world is here given centre stage: the removal of people opens up our attention to what is present but unseen in all films and in life itself. The spaces humans made are still here, but they don’t mean the same things anymore. Is a train station still a train station if trains don’t come anymore, and there are neither trains nor people to board them? Shops and vending machines still display their brightly coloured wares, designed to appeal to creatures that are absent. There are no more signifiers, as there are no people to interpret them. A Macdonald’s M means nothing, there is nothing behind it anymore: it is just an object, a lump of plastic, its history and cultural connotations wiped out. Perhaps most significantly, the distinction between the natural and human worlds is gone, between inside and outside. In truth this distinction, along with so much of the world we inhabit, doesn’t exist outside of our collective imagination.