La nuit a dévoré le monde
starring Anders Danielsen Lie, Golshifteh Farahani, Denis Lavant, Sigrid Bouaziz
screenplay by Guillaume Lemans, Jérémie Guez, Dominique Rocher, based on the novel by Pit Agarmen
directed by Dominique Rocher
by Walter Chaw A spiritual companion piece to "The Twilight Zone"'s "Time Enough at Last," in which a bookish, harried loner survives a nuclear holocaust (to his delight), gathers all the books he wants to read, and then accidentally breaks his glasses, Dominique Rocher's The Night Eats the World has angry, awkward loner Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie, who broke my heart in Oslo, August 31) find a little safe space only to discover that the zombie apocalypse has happened. It opens at a party thrown by his ex-girlfriend Fanny (Sigrid Bouaziz), where he's come to collect a box of tapes she's accidentally taken with her upon her departure. He's irritated that her attention's divided and that she's invited him to get his stuff during a party. Her public displays of affection with a new, aggressive boyfriend (David Kammenos) seem calculated, too, to make him uncomfortable, small. The first ten minutes of the film see Sam floating through the party, nursing his drink, trying to get Fanny's attention. Hours pass with Sam on the periphery of every interaction. In a very real, visceral way, The Night Eats the World is a character study of introversion and depression. Fanny, frustrated instantly, asks Sam why he can't just mingle, meet some new people, "try for a change." It's clear why they've broken up. She doesn't understand what it's like to be depressed. He doesn't understand what it's like not to be. She tells Sam to go in a back bedroom for his things and stay there because it's quiet. They'll talk later. She does understand at least that Sam might have some audio processing issues related to his overlapping conditions. Yeah, don't we all.
The premise owes something to Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, of course--the lone survivor left to his own devices in a sea of mutants. There's even a moment in The Night Eats the World where Sam tries to lure a cat into the building to be his companion, only to learn the crucial difference between cats and dogs: for the most part, cats don't need you as much as you need them. There's a girl, too, Sarah (Golshifteh Farahani). She shows up one day and Sam almost murders her because she's like the manifestation of his dreams of death. In a different movie, the romantic-comedy version, she would represent the free spirit following Fanny's emotional sink. Sarah urges Sam to leave the building. There's nothing for him here but an impossibly protracted death, alone, surrounded by hordes of the faceless that would see him destroyed. Zombies are always metaphors. Romero's stood in for white evangelicals in the '60s, capitalist consumerist hordes in the '70s, the military industrial complex in the '80s. Their proliferation in our popular consciousness now has something to do, I think, with behavioral sink. It's a concept developed by rat researchers that states that at a certain point of supply and population saturation, subject society begins to devolve into a cannibalistic robber oligarchy. It's one of the key models for societal decay. In The Night Eats the World, the zombies serve the function of a voracious "Other" that has as its only purpose the absorption of the hero. The introvert is enervated by social contact. If you're depressed on top of that, it's hard not to think that everyone out there wants a piece of you.
Lie is an exceptional actor, and this type of character is his signature. He's handsome in his rake-thin, haggard way--articulate, resourceful. The doomed junkie he plays in Oslo, August 31 is so heartbreaking because you can see a way out for him he can't see for himself. You want to save him because he seems to be worth saving. Allowing the picture to be essentially a silent one, director Rocher fills every frame with interest: pictures on walls, artifacts of lost lives on the counters. There's a collection of old bottles in a looted kitchen, a drawer full of trinkets in a bedroom, a half-deflated blow-up globe sitting on the floor of a kid's room, where Sam finds a paint gun. He finds a headset there, too, and a diegetic soundtrack becomes possible now because of it. It's character-building and time-setting that audio cassettes are still in vogue and the object of Sam's journey into the apartment building in the first place. The film has a lovely look to it: lived-in and, at the same time, romantic. It reminds in some ineffable way of moving into a dorm for the first time, how there were possible worlds behind every door. It felt exciting for a while and that's meaningful for an introvert to be excited about the possibility of others. For Sam, there's as much horror attached to the unknown and so there you have your metaphor extended. The Night Eats the World is a play on the zombie thing, sure, but it's also a poetic way to address how the world shrinks around your depression and makes of all the possible avenues one small room. I really felt seen by this movie. Your mileage may vary.