If ever there was a metaphor for the hopeless, isolated and trapped experience of pandemic confinement, Vivarium might be custom made. A vivarium is an enclosure prepared for keeping animals under semi-natural conditions for observation or as pets. But there’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye.
In brief, Vivarium is the story of Gemma and Tom, played by Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg, who are exploring options for the purchase of a home. The showroom of a planned development called "Yonder" is their first and only stop. Following a brief and bizarre description of this “perfect” community, a robot-like salesman drives along with them to the model home at number nine.
The neighborhood is comprised of row upon row of identical homes, not unlike some gated communities here in Florida, or other more upscale versions we saw on the North Shore near Chicago. But these homes are utterly identical, all the same sickly shade of green inside and out, situated beneath subdued, somewhat artificial sunlight and motionless little clouds that look like something Bob Ross painted in the sky.
On the chance that you’re in the mood to see the most bizarre movie since 1982’s Liquid Sky, or 1979’s Phantasm, I won’t reveal the puzzle Gemma and Tom are forced to solve. Both of those older movies have cult followings, and this film might develop one as well. Those familiar with the RiverWorld science fiction series of stories might find this story intriguing. In that classic by Philip Jose Farmer set on a planet of endless rivers, people are reconstructed, naked and alone, mysteriously provided with food but with no clue where they are or for what purpose.
Written and Produced by Ireland’s Lorcan Finnegan, six production companies have their hands in this film. It is an international co-production of Belgium, Denmark and Ireland. Themes of materialism, happiness and purpose are explored by the writers in a full feature expression of their 2011 short called Foxes. Jesse Eisenberg plays his usual intense and serious persona.
One hint, pay close attention to an early scene in which a cuckoo takes over the nest of another bird. There are parallels. And you may find yourselves talking about this movie long after it ends.
Vivarium (2019) runs 1 hour, 37 minutes and is rated R.