Starring: Peter Dinklage, Elle Fanning
Released: 21 January 2018
Director: Reed Morano
Production: Automatik Entertainment, Exhibit Entertainment et al.
Del is alone in the world. After the human race is wiped out, he lives in his small, empty town, content in his solitude and the utopia he’s methodically created for himself — until he is discovered by Grace, an interloper whose history and motives are obscure. And to make matters worse, she wants to stay.
I watched this on Netflix (UK)
I came to know Peter Dinklage’s work, as so many other have, through Game of Thrones. Then I saw him in Death At A Funeral and Elf, both roles which I thoroughly enjoyed him in. I hadn’t heard of I Think We’re Alone Now; just found it whilst surfing through Netflix.
After watching, I looked up a couple of reviews; they weren’t very positive, and I wondered what critics were expecting when they saw Dinklage was starring in a post-apocalyptic drama. I went in with no expectations.
It’s post-apocalypse America and Del is alone in a small town; believing himself the last man alive after some unspecified event that has caused everyone to die – quite quickly it seems, and some months prior to these events. Del has settled into a routine in the library where he works, still collecting and cataloguing books, as well as cleaning up the deceased and their homes. We see a man who has respect for the dead – or do we? – who quietly enters homes, tidies up, empties fridges of their rotten contents, disinfects around, and then wraps the bodies he finds and takes them on his truck to be buried outside of town.
It appears to be a peaceful existence; even in his solitude. He lives in the library and maintains a routine of cooking, eating, washing (he even brushes his teeth), fishing, maintaining the library (for whom?), and burying the dead. It’s a semblance of normalcy, we understand that this is how a man alone can stay sane.
Then Grace arrives. She is young, brash and upsets the routine that Del has built. When Grace accompanies Del on one of his ‘corpse clean-ups’, she watches how he dumps the bodies in the ground and tells him that her father was a preacher, that when she passed bodies on her way here she held her breath. They begin a routine of silence and breath-holding from then on.
We know next to nothing about Del’s and Grace’s previous lives, only what they choose reveal to each other. Del seems self-contained and content in contrast to Grace’s head-banging restlessness, and I think that’s how it should be; we are watching them through each other’s eyes. However, a tiny glimpse into Del’s previous existence comes in the poignant reply to when Grace asks if Del ever gets lonely, he replies, “You know what? I’ll tell you when I felt lonely. I felt lonely when it was me and 1,600 other people in this town. I was pretty fucking lonely.”
The main oddity is when Grace is sorting her hair looking in a mirror – she has a recent scar on the back of her neck.
And then Grace’s parents turn up. Del, unhappy at the initial intrusion, now exhibits signs of agitation. Grace had told him there was no-one else alive. Grace had told him her parents were dead – Grace lied. Her father finds Del, in his quiet solitude, in the library, and tells him he should join them out on the West Coast, they have doctors who are doing things with the human mind, cutting edge stuff, the loneliness of being outside ‘the fold’. They whisk Grace off,; but not before Grace desperately tell him these people are not really her parents, and Del is alone again.
Predictably, Grace has touched a part of Del that remembers/needs human contact. He sets out to find/rescue her. There is no-one as he drives for days across the country. He swaps his vehicle at each road blockage; where bodies lie desiccating inside cars, in dust-blown towns, until he finally drives over a rise and sees the lights of a large town. Stunned, he locates the house (Grace’s ‘father’ wrote it inside one of the library books) and Grace, who is wired up to some monitor device, filled with tubes and stuff, which Del releases her from.
Downstairs, they are met by the ‘father’, who does little to stop them, but tells Del that in the same way Del is keeping his town clean, they are doing the same here – but with the citizens! “They don’t have to remember what happened before. They don’t have to live in the past. There’s no before. There’s only from now on. Isn’t that beautiful? To not have to remember anything?”
It’s kind of creepy; as is he, so it’s a delight when Grace kills him. As Del and Grace drive off, we get a Stepford Wives moment – slo-mo citizens going about their beautiful lives, in beautiful sunshine; jogging, gardening, drinking beer on the lawn, smiling and content.
I know some people felt cheated that this film turned out to NOT be a last man in the world scenario. But we have seen lots of post-apocalypse stuff, and lots of man/woman alone against the odds and I think this film makes us adjust our attitude to togetherness – it’s not about survival after a disaster, its about connectedness and that, now cliché quote of John Donne’s, ‘No man is an island’. Despite Del thinking he can cope, and has made a lovely little routine, and thinks he is happy – he isn’t really, and Grace reminds him that man cannot live alone.
There were a couple of aspects of the film that didn’t quite ring true for me, but nothing that disrupted the narrative. The dialogue is quite sparse, only the ‘father’ has a chunk of dialogue, and by the time he arrives, I felt settled into Del and Grace’s routine and wanted him to go away. In fact, at the beginning, I did feel like Del when he and Grace went ‘shopping’ in the supermarket, and she asked him what he missed the most, and he replied ‘Quiet.’ He had become so used to his isolation that he was reclusive – and I could relate to that.
Is there an underlying meaning in I Think We’re Alone Now? I think so. It isn’t an action film, there isn’t much dialogue – it’s contemplative. And not only are we being asked to contemplate isolation; initially, but the sharing of our lives with others; even another who is not necessarily, or initially compatible. Grace and Del are dealing with loss in very different ways; he through routine and solitude, she through having her memory wiped. There is a wide gap in their ages, but a little romance does blossom, which is also the reality that bites when Del decides to save her.
The ending, I feel, is almost portrayed like an invitation to join ‘the fold’. You could; like so many people do, choose the easy option and live a life of ‘apparent’ bliss, have a house, a car, a job, hobbies, friendly neighbours, sunshine and lollipops. The film’s ending is the most brightly lit section – throughout it has been blue-tinted greys and dark shadows. Now, as they leave what I presume is meant to be California, we get clear blue skies, palm trees, colourful bicycles and clothing; perfect America? All intensified with an eerie score of suggested discordance. It begins to ‘wind up’ in tension as Del slows the car – is he wishing he could join them? Is life too hard to go on back up North? Does he imagine it would be easier to be one of the herd? His thoughts are interrupted by Grace and the single pronouncement of his name, and they’re moving again. The music rises in pitch and blossoms into a beautiful conclusion as they drive off.
You can take the red pill or the blue pill. Live in a David Lynch-like world of white picket fences and lies – or get on with reality. Utopia is what we make it.
I’m giving I Think We’re Alone Now