It was a rainy Thursday night where I was in bed and on one of my procrastination runs that I stumbled across this YouTube channel: Omeleto.
I had seen a few thumbnails of videos from this channel yet had never bothered to see what sort of content they produce and turns out, on there were thousands of short films, all acclaimed and accredited with some sort of award. Of course, my subconscious mind — in its goal of trying to fool me to not do work — made me think watching short films is kinda productive for the creative part of my brain. Hence, I ended up clicking on a video. And suddenly, I was transported to this entirely new world of short films that had previously been hidden in Vimeo links and Facebook posts; a world where there is no boundary or limitations, a place where even the most outrageous ideas are welcomed.
Short films have never been one for the big screens and not many people actually watch it unless you’re aware of their existence. However, there is a beauty in the restraint of time where human creativity is pushed to produce something memorable in such a short moment. Because of the limit short films hold, however, they mainly tend to explore one major idea or concept. This is perhaps where a lot of the unconventional plots come from, as to leave an imprint on the audience’s mind, sometimes even the wildest approaches are needed.
There was one out of the many that I watched that caught my eye and haven’t left my mind since: a short film called Arlo Alone. A 16-minute sci-fi screenplay that follows Arlo, a young woman, as she comes to terms with her own loneliness in a world where in-person contact has become a rarity due to the prohibition of going out into an environment that has become too toxic to survive in.
As most short films, which tend to be set in an otherworldly place to catch the attention of the audience as soon as possible, Arlo Alone is set in a futuristic parallel to our world where people lived in high tech individual compartments, only ate modified nutrition pills to sustain themselves
, and had no real human contact with others. You know, as sci-fi films go. Yet it wasn’t the fact that I was watching a world so unusual unfold in front of my eyes that made me remember this film for days onwards, it was how this film perfectly encompassed the human need of physical and emotional affection that struck me deep to my core.
The film begins with an aerial shot of Arlo in bed, centered among the vast frame filled with white beddings. This sets the tone of the film and how it goes as we’re introduced to Arlo alone in her space; and instead of the comfort this should resonate, it induces this feeling of emptiness. Like there is something missing in those empty spaces of stark white.
Even though Arlo is not always alone in times when she talks with the man from the insurance company over the phone or video-calls her mother and sister throughout the day, there is one major fact that these interactions are all digital and arguably superficial. It’s not that they’re not real, it’s more that in all those interactions the emptiness settles once again when the call ends. And Arlo is left alone in all this.
It’s only after an accident in which Arlo is injured that there is a change to her routine life; her emergency contact, a total stranger, is entrusted to take care of her until she gets better. And from then there is a transformation in the mood of the story; Arlo’s space is now filled with Nim and the emptiness that was once present is no longer. There’s someone there who cares for her and cuts up lemon and lets her bite into it for fun.
Despite Arlo’s hesitance to be touched at first, she soon succumbs to the hold of Nim’s hands and a soothing ambient sound slowly flows into the background. From the shot of their hands moulding to fit each other, there’s a cut to a close-up of Arlo where she is bathed in this warm glow and her eyes are closed in ethereal peace, entranced by an act so unusual. But she basks in it because for a place where human intimacy is surreal, the touch she feels is almost like a dream. As if the yearning that’s been hidden so deep inside her is finally set free and for a second, she is released from all her worries.
When she wakes up and finds Nim gone, she is suddenly struck with the reality of how once-in-a-lifetime that moment was. Her desperation when she knocks on all her neighbour’s doors praying to find someone willing to share their space again is unhinged. She’s caught off guard when a man opens his door and awkwardly begins small talk.
However, the change is present once more when the man reaches his hand for her to shake. The shot closes up on their hands just as it did when Nim first held her; in that moment the audience understands it is not the want of romance, rather it is the physical need to be touched and embraced, to feel something if not anything. And it’s the realisation that within all of us is a natural need to be with others, to form human relationships, to feel like we belong.
From then on my world felt forever changed, how someone could encapsulate the need of human interaction into a short 16-minute film was beyond my imagination. I was enamoured by the beauty of it all and something about short films seemed to be much more memorable than conventional films. Perhaps it is true that, in some sense, less is more.
Written by: Raihanah Binti Kamarul Azman
Cover photo credits: YouTube