Friday, 23 October 2009
Directed by Sander Plug, Lernert Engelberts
Release date(s) Watch here
Running time 13 episodes, each about 4 minutes long
On the 4th of August 2006, the personal search queries of 650,000 AOL users were accidentally leaked in an online document. After the public outcry and the ire of all the outraged customers died down, the dutch film making duo of Engelberts and Plug decided to take the incident and turn it into art.
The result is I Love Alaska, a 13 part documentary that tells the story of a middle aged American woman through the search queries she entered between 1 March and 31 May 2006. Piece by piece these short and sharp videos build an image of this woman like a jigsaw puzzle, these tiny search queries giving us brief, seemingly inconsequential snippets inside the searcher's mind while we the viewers are left to fill in the blanks using our imaginations. It's a very unusual project that would look more at home as part of an art installation than on a television screen in someone's home living room.
Here is a woman going through a midlife crisis, spending her days browsing the internet to read about celebrities and the weather and how to get rid of annoying birds outside her window. It all starts off very innocent and almost depressingly droll, but eventually we start to see patterns of her insecurities and longing for acceptance, as well as her developing internet addiction as she starts meeting people on the internet and ultimately having an affair. The final videos depict the aftermath, in which her life essentially collapses and her search patterns begin to reflect her remorse. Here, the internet is more than just a source of information, it's also a friend and confessional for a very lonely woman, and suddenly the mildly humorous non-sequitor queries take on a far more depressing light.
It's weird and initially a bit creepy hearing all these private thoughts and feelings, which range from the light and humorous to the darker and more personal, but in the end there is something very detached and cold about the whole thing that makes it strangely easier to watch. The queries are read aloud by an emotionless computer voice, each one rendered completely insignificant against the backdrop of the serene, but isolated and empty Alaskan wilderness. The reality is that we aren't really watching a story unfold about a real person, the vast majority of the character comes from within our own minds.
It succeeds largely on this introspective nature of the project, and the absolutely striking cinematography that will either give viewers a sense of complete calm, or complete dread. But really this film isn't at all about what you're actually seeing on the screen, or even what you're hearing. In the end it doesn't even really matter what happens with the woman, it's about how the film makes you think.
The directors clearly have a keen understanding of the voyeuristic nature of people, and the dark tendency to constantly judge. The end result is not so much to tell us a story, but to get us to think about ourselves and why content of this nature is so compelling in the complete absence of any unified meaning. More than that it creates a very real sense of wonder about our own search and web histories, and the footprint we leave all over the internet in doing so. One can't help but wonder what our life stories would look like from a similarly harsh and clinical perspective.
This is not a film I can recommend as entertainment, but as an examination of human nature in the internet age, it's pretty interesting stuff.