"Vivarium," (available on Prime Video) written and directed by Lorcan Finnegan, stars Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots as a young unmarried couple who are sucked into an insecure security. The film offers, uncannily, the perfect claustrophobic metaphor for quarantined viewers. It is not soothing, but it is entertaining in the way that unsettling art can be.
The movie opens with scenes of the woman teaching a preschool class, then finishing work and meeting her boyfriend (this synopsis contains no elements not in the trailer). The couple playfully linger around the school, seeming innocent and tentatively happy. They go looking for something to do and end up wandering into the office of a company offering cheap houses in a new development called "Yonder." The salesman, whose name tag identifies him as Martin, is a creepy fellow who sounds like an alien trying to impersonate a human.
The couple ends up driving to Yonder, following Martin's car. They enter Yonder's gates, past a billboard showing a happy young couple with their laughing baby, set to enjoy newly energized lives "forever." The CGI artwork of endless rows of identical two-story green-purple houses, under a blue sky filled with unchanging small puffy stylized pink and white clouds, offers a chilling combination of reassuring cleanliness and basic prettiness (flower beds, lawns) with the sterility of a vivisection lab. The total absence of other humans adds to the effect.
Martin ushers the couple into model house Number 9, which, like the grounds and even the sky, is immaculate, minimally pretty and sterile. The quarantined viewer feels (or at least this quarantined viewer felt) a chill of recognition at the enticement and threat of hermetic confinement.
Martin shows the couple a bedroom made up for a baby boy, and the couple looks at him quizzically. He responds with a few non-sequiturs and a maniacal grin. The couple privately converse, and when they look up, Martin is gone and so is his car. The couple drives in circles and discovers they can't get out of Yonder. A box is delivered in front of House Number 9 containing a baby boy, with a message reading, "Raise the child and be released."
The rest of this sci-fi/horror/metaphorical feast involves fuller definitions of the terms "raise," "child" and "released."
I found it necessary to decompress after the movie to allow my thoughts to air. Among the first thoughts: The fact that Martin and the rapidly growing baby/boy/man appear alien makes them likely metaphors for the coronavirus, which is trying to replicate itself in us, using us as disposable parents.
It's a coincidence that "Vivarium," which premiered at Cannes in May, 2019 when there was certainly no advance knowledge of the coronavirus, would come into general release in the middle of the current pandemic. Perhaps non-microbe related hints of things to come inspired the movie makers, for instance the way people feel herded around like cattle, and the way they might wish to be herded around; unease at being governed by distant, uncaring forces, which people may wish were closer to them, bringing protection and security, and their fears about what closeness to a governing source could cost, like loss of privacy, or way of life, or, perhaps, life.
Like all effective works of art, "Vivarium" offers no help beyond the momentary solace that comes from knowing that other people feel what you feel. That's a real solace, but just as the relief offered by mood altering drugs wears off, the effects of great art wear off and leave us without much benefit.
After all, the coronavirus and its attendant and unexpected remodeling of human culture are still happening, despite works of art. We are still trapped in this transformation with little sense of agency or possible escape.
Faulting art for being a short-lived fix would be unfair, since art does not claim to "fix" things. I don't know what we'd do without art, and we should be grateful for whatever balm it supplies, but art is a short-lived fix, and in the case of "Vivarium" very short-lived. However, if you're looking for something to take you out of yourself and then back into yourself as you wait to find out what unnamed aliens have in store for you, you can't go wrong with "Vivarium"!