Best known for 1982’s dreamlike Koyaanisqatsi, director Reggio segues from the “life out of balance” visual premise of his stunning debut to a calmer – but no less astonishing – deconstruction of the planet’s current state of singularly impressive distress. Like Reggio’s previous films, including 2002’s Naqoyqatsi: Life as War, Visitors is less a narrative film than an experimental tone poem set to a mellifluously repetitive score by Philip Glass. Its revelations audaciously bloom like time-lapse flower footage, subtly shifting from one aspect of the modern world to the next. The overall effect is akin to having a God-side seat to the here and now.
The film is lensed in pristine black and white, with much of the striking visual imagery appearing and disappearing in hauntingly lovely ultraslow motion. Reggio’s filmmaking aesthetics continue to be awe-inspiring, whether it’s the remarkable opening image of eyes gleaming in the dark which are slowly, ever so slowly, revealed to be the grim countenance of a terribly serious seeming silverback gorilla (shades of 2001: A Space Odyssey there, intentional or not), or the ominously looming, man-made edifices that look like so many guard towers imprisoning the frame. (Or is it mankind that has imprisoned itself? Reggio has never been in the habit of offering easy answers to his increasingly complex visual equations.)
There’s a more human element to Visitors, though. One lengthy passage features a series of faces – young, old, black, white – followed by another sequence of hands. Dislocated from the faces, they seem more like the appendages of some strange alien being rather that those trembly things at the ends of all our wrists.
What Reggio’s ultimate point or conclusion might be is, as ever, left up to the viewer for interpretation. And while this is patently not a film that big-box cineplexers are going to rush to in droves, Visitors remains a wondrous work of artistic achievement. Its languidly hypnotic pacing is balanced perfectly by Glass’ furiously attentive score. I’m still not sure what it all means, but I do know art with a capital A when I see it.