Two Years at Sea
Although beginning a movie review with a personal disclaimer is generally seen as being bad form (who are you, disgusting film critic, to be giving me, the reader, your horrid life story? Just give the thing some stars and piss off already) in the case of Two Years at Sea, a little bit of back story is unavoidable. And it is this: I don’t ‘get’ art.
This information is essential, because art is all Two Years at Sea really strives to be. Unfortunately, I cannot confidently judge the film as being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ art, in the same way I can’t judge a cricket match as being a particularly thrilling one or not. I don’t KNOW, I don’t have the CAPABILITIES. Stop ASKING me. WHY ARE WE EVEN HERE. With that in mind, let me say, confidently, that Two Years at Sea is a terrible movie. But it might be a lovely bit of art.
Two Years at Sea focuses on the life of Jake Williams, one of the last dozen or so genuine hermits left on the planet. He ambles about the Scottish wilderness in self-satisfied solitude, ignoring the 16mm cameras that hone in on his every move. He washes himself. He plays his gramophone. He tinkers with bits of things. Mostly though, he looks wistfully into the distance, contemplating. This is all very well and good, but unfortunately this is all artist/director Ben Rivers is willing to give us. The film is silent, save for an occasional scratched recording. Wildman Jake is so wondrously content with his own isolation that I quickly grew cantankerous with the smug old sod. C’mon, Jake. Say something! Throw a pie! IF YOU LOVE SCOTLAND SO MUCH WHY DON’T YOU JUST MARRY IT.
Undeniably, Two Years at Sea is a film that will appeal to lovers of cinematography rather than fans of narrative. Think Terrence Malick, but with even more of that sweeping scenery and bits of grass you loved so much. The choice to shoot in 16mm achieves somewhat varied results: rendering simple shots of forest mist breathtakingly beautiful, yet other moments needlessly drab. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Jake and Ben have worked together before; on Ben’s award-winning short film, This is My Land. The operative word here is, of course, short. Wildman Jake’s story is perfect for fifteen minutes of “Ah, isn’t this nice? Look at that old man, doing things. Nice.” but the average cinema goer will lose patience with Two Years at Sea‘s whopping 88 minutes. That’s an hour and a half of watching an old man, do things. Which to be frank, is something we can watch our grandparents do for free.
Ultimately, while Two Years at Sea has it’s objectively gorgeous moments, it does little to sustain audience interest: and indeed, makes little attempt to. Without dialogue or explanation, the film offers very little insight into Jake’s real psyche, or his reasoning for retreating to the wilderness in the first place. Sadly, with no motive to speak of, it’s hard to muster any swell of pride when Jake FINALLY finishes that raft and (spoilers) rides it across the river. What could be a satisfying short film or a wonderful series of snapshots instead becomes a slow, ponderous cinematic experience. But it’s probably art, so hey, what the hell.