I have never been lonelier than when I have been with other people. That is one of the worst feelings in worlds both known and unknown.
If you are anywhere in or near or approaching that corridor of aching cold, for whatever reason, right now, I got you. I get it. It’s horrible. No thank you.
There is a lot of chatter about loneliness these days. These are lonely times, exceptionally so. The power of loneliness, necrotic and neurotic, has only begun to be researched as a diagnosis rather than a definition.
Lonely people of all provenances identify their own through a kind of hanky code. These types of clues are, astonishingly, everywhere. Wedding rings, for example, are the heteronormative version of a hanky code. It’s fun to observe who is and isn’t wearing a wedding ring, be it in a film or elsewhere. It’s intel into their relationship with loneliness.
An entire new movement of lonely men have embraced their alienation as an identity, brandishing their impotent warcry through a synthetic language eerily similar to the venomous slang of 1984 and Shakespearean slander in A Clockwork Orange. From the the closed captioned colloquialisms of Newspeak to the Slavic-tinged cacophony of Nadsat, isolated groups rely on a private language to recognize loneliness in others; whether or not this language is then further employed by Incels and their ilk to efficiently discuss loneliness is yet to be determined.
Even God has a lonely man, a lonely man with only rain and desire and darkness to keep him company as he fights a lonely post-war war against Manhattan’s machines, both through the taxi he tensely pilots and the political group on which he tersely fixates. The relentless intimacy of this isolation through technology, whether it is automotive or automated, is hella real.
Loneliness on film, when done right, is sublime.
How lonely Dr Harford must feel in his tacky costume at that most Rococo of cocktail parties. How lonely Jeffrey Beaumont must feel in that closet, suddenly thrust further into dangerous mysteries for which he lacks all innate language to describe. How lonely Travis Bickle is in the cab, in the porn theater, in the mirror.
These are powerful and provocative images.
And these towering images of epic cinematic loneliness are all of men.
Beautiful men. Complicated men. Smart men. Men who are changing. Men who want to be good. Men who behave madly.
I have spent a lot of time with these men on screen. I have spent a lot of time with these men off screen. I enjoy spending time with both.
Certainly, loneliness lives precariously close to hopelessness in heads and holograms of all genders and genetics. A man’s loneliness, however, is a different experience and therefore a different expression than that of a woman’s. While the pockmarked topography of masculine loneliness is regularly photographed by award-winning directors and lionized by groundbreaking podcast series, the coordinates of loneliness are perceived and received differently by women, and as such, are imprinted differently on film.
A woman’s loneliness is wispy and gauzy, whispered and flimsy, and is often profoundly misunderstood for all sorts of heartbreaking reasons by both herself and those she loves most, usually the closest with and to her. Children. Husbands. Partners. Lovers. Parents. Friends. Family. Everyone.
Women’s loneliness sighs as it unfurls. It is diffuse, directionless, draining. It’s shameful. It’s boring. It’s exhausting. It’s alienating. It’s suffocating. Conversations start and end, but they end badly. Questions are mistaken for accusations. Everything is wrong but nothing is wrong, and everything hurts. And it’s an elusive state not often written about let alone captured by film directors of any eras/creeds/lineages.
And when this formlessly feminine locus of oxygen-deprived loneliness is authentically captured on the confines of film, especially when it is observed and revealed and preserved by a man, it is beyond sublime.
It is transcendent.
In Luigi Bazzoni’s 1975’s Giallo “Footprints on the Moon”, the silent screams of an astronaut deliberately abandoned by a diabolical double-crossing doctor to suffocate on the moon haunt the days and nights of a woman who seems to be the only one aware of a distressing mystery about who she is now and who she used to be.
Released the middle of the genre’s most celebrated decade, Footprints offers Gialli’s underpinning ideas of operatic misdirection and obsessional rumination as concepts both visually and thematically intertwined. Gorgeously photographed in Turkey by Vittorio Storaro, one of Italy’s most seasoned and sensitive cinematographers, luscious blues and magnificent teals are set against incandescent shades of yellow, pleasurably connecting plot points through the film’s overt reliance of sun-saturated scenery and candy-coated color to covertly telegraph a woman’s confusion and isolation.
Astonishingly, however, this film’s examination of a woman’s loneliness is framed through both the the delivery and imagery of post-war science fiction. The idea of mad scientists stranding cosmonauts on a desolate lunar surface speaks to jet age anxieties about the space race’s rocket fuel coming directly from the most secret of laboratories in Central Europe. The fact that the film’s main character saw this story on television as a child also reveals not only the depth of these post-war preoccupations, but their breadth over the decades as as well. These fears have become, in this woman’s formative years, so ubiquitous as to be defanged fodder for late night teevee.
A language translator, Alice Cespi (the extraordinary Florinda Bolkan) is accustomed to a solitary city lifestyle thanks to her ability to effectively transmute words into thoughts, thoughts into idioms, and idioms back to words. She lives by herself, turns in her work assignments by herself, and, before she goes to bed by herself, she takes pills, ostensibly to address ongoing insomnia. A smart and capable woman who relies on her intellect to ensure her independence, Alice even has the means to obtain man-made shortcuts to the sweet narcotic of sleep. Her loneliness keeps her awake late into the night otherwise.
Her beautiful dark eyes, almond-shaped and unblinking, are clouded by both the transparency of medicine and opacity of melancholy (“I chose you because your eyes have known hunger,” an Italian director once said upon casting Ms Bolkan). Her colorless hair is conservatively cropped, her feminine figure is swathed in professional gray garb. This is a life alone with urbane conveniences and stylish ashtrays for the closest of companions.
Alice’s slow and strange journey from and to her own lunar footprints include a handful of Gialli’s expected tropes; a pair of wielded scissors play a role in a sudden act of violence after a long deferred act of intimacy, and a wig found in a forested alcove serves as a catalyst into a “presque vu” world where gossamer dresses of the sweetest sunshine seem to match her once-flowing locks of Titian red. The uneasy visual alliances and hazy histories between the Occident and Orient further diffuse Alice’s shifting sense of self among the shadows as she sits and cogitates in queasy solitude by the Byzantine sea.
In one of the genre’s most despondent twist endings, the film’s linear narrative implodes with a bloodless but brutal cut, damning and dispelling Alice’s increasing sense of desolation with a structural incision so clinical and cruel it could only be matched by the merciless orders once given against abandoned astronauts by sadistic space age scientists. What was previously encoded with elliptical ambivalence is now spotlit as painful plausibility. Perhaps the pills Alice took were not soporifics but anti-psychotics. Perhaps the scissors were those that were then used to cut off her once flowing and feminine red locks as she was unwillingly escorted to leave her own footprints on the moon.
This is a woman’s soul shattering into an airless interpretation of her own isolation. It is here her loneliness trespasses and then transcends the depressing and diluted boundaries of reality.
And it is sublime.
Thank you for reading the second entry of Cyberian Cinema, an ongoing blog series inspired by my intense love of three concepts as they are captured on film: 1) murder; 2) space; and 3) murder in space.
Stephanie Sack, AKA voluptuousrobot, identifies as a Cosmic Hostess, gothy AF, Chicago native, hot yoga junkie, UFO valet, film snob, and total weirdo.