Dilapidation and Decay
In Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s “Homo Sapiens”, we see 94 minutes’ worth of destroyed, decayed, and looted environments. There are no humans in this world and there is no narrative, we simply see only the traces of our violence and neglect. We see earth as a planet as if it has abandoned by people who made sure to ransack it on their way out to other planets and galaxies. There are deserted Japanese-style rooms filled with hundreds of stacked books; wrecked movie theaters with film projectors that are rotting; bars that are filled with mold and moss; flooded auditoriums; and dilapidated hospitals, corporate offices, prisons cells, and bowling alleys.
Instead of surveying landscape, Geyrhalter gives us an exercise endurance not because of the film’s pacing, but due to the filmmaker’s refusal to offer any sense of orientation (we do not know where we are in terms of location) or progress. What at first seems to be an examination of the deterioration of one single village becomes an inspection of the four corners of the world. The most beautiful moments are made up of birds flying indoors, sometimes coming in and out of structures as if playing a game of hide-and-go-seek with the camera. These creatures are the only things that breathe, and that actually move on the planet that seems to be rotting away. Human creations crumble and the birds seem to mourn as they play with the camera.
In this film without people, the camera focuses on the remnants of civilization— this is an anthropological investigation into the modern world that shows us the infrastructure of society. We feel that we are entering different spaces and being present for whatever small environmental changes (wind, rain) happen.
With no music, no dialogue, no people and no mankind, we see still-life portraits of abandoned structures, with each shot typically lasting fifteen to twenty seconds. It seems to be science fiction as it studies a seemingly post-industrial and post-apocalyptic planet abandoned by humans.
Geyrhalter has not filmed any abandoned private residences here; he’s more concerned with giving glimpses of the remains of once-valued social structures—of which there is a vast selection.
The film spends time on the two sorts of structures whose ruins have developed the most fervent followings: old movie theaters and shopping malls. Indeed, it’s interesting that the most melancholic, disquieting images are those of discarded places of entertainment and leisure: theme parks, playgrounds, bowling alleys, and discotheques. “The documentary is as much a portrait of shifts in mass amusement activities and the fleeting nature of leisure fads as it is a study of declining industries and societal neglect”.
We see entire towns that have been left to rot, as well as some large, mysterious structures whose original functions are not always apparent. Little camera movement and the duration of the shots allow us to see details that surely otherwise would have escaped notice (cascading leaves blown by the wind, dust particles in a beam of bright sunlight, raindrops forming small puddles).As the film nears it close, it moves further and further away from human life.