Horror parable “Vivarium” about unhappy “happy” families
Country: Ireland, Denmark, Belgium, Canada
Genre: Thriller, Horror, Science Fiction, Drama
Year of production: 2019
Director: Lorcan Finnegan
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Imogen Poots, Inna Hardwick
The film “Vivarium”, which won an award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019, turned out to be of interest not only to film critics, but also to the mass audience (which is not often the case for participants in this prestigious event). Although it can not be called light and entertaining. The meaning of the film “Vivarium” may also be incomprehensible, but a heavy feeling after watching is guaranteed.
What is the movie about
Before giving an explanation of the ending of the film “Vivarium”, let’s recall the plot. Young people Tom and Gemma plan to cower and are in search of suitable housing. They arrive at a real estate agency, where they are greeted by a strange agent named Martin.
The couple travels with him to an area called “Yonder”, which consists of identical private houses. It is silent and empty here, there are no people and everything seems to be artificial. Martin shows the customers house number nine and disappears somewhere. Tom and Gemma try to leave Yonder, but the road always brings them back. As a result, the fuel in the car runs out and the young people decide to stay in the house for the night.
Jesse Eisenberg, Imogen Poots starring couple Tom and Gemma. Frame from the film.
In the morning, Tom climbs onto the roof and sees an endless chain of houses. The couple tries to navigate by the sun and walk through the courtyards, but nothing works – they return to the ill-fated building again. Nearby is a parcel with food and other essentials. Tom, in a rage, sets fire to the house.
The next day comes and it turns out that the house is safe and sound. A new package arrives, this time with a live baby. The message on the box reads: Raise a child and you will be set free.
Tom and Gemma have no choice but to agree to this condition. They have to settle in house number nine. The life of young people turns into a hard routine, their physical and mental condition worsens every day. Tom, in search of a way out, begins to dig artificial earth next to the house. This occupation draws him in headlong, under the ground he hears mysterious sounds.
The foundling literally grows by leaps and bounds and in just a few months becomes a seven-year-old child, but with an adult voice. He demands attention, gets his way with the help of a scream, stares at the patterns on TV, and then begins to go somewhere regularly.
One day, Tom decides to starve the child to death, but Gemma prevents him from doing so. Young people move away from each other, while the girl tries to find a common language with a foundling.
One day the boy shows up with a book in an unknown language. Gemma makes an attempt to find out what is the meaning of the writing and who gave it. In response to a request to portray the donor, the boy turns into a kind of monster, which greatly frightens the girl.
A foundling quickly becomes an adult male. Tom, continuing to dig a hole, stumbles upon a dead body in a body bag – apparently the same inhabitant of the vivarium, who overtook a sad end.
Having got out, he dies in the arms of Gemma. The girl asks the grown foundling to help her, but he only brings another body bag, where he places Tom’s body. Gemma makes an attempt to kill her adopted son, but to no avail. In pursuit of him, she finds herself in a certain corridor, where she sees similar houses with other couples, each of whom also grows a strange baby monster. Gemma dies, and the foundling buries her in the same hole next to the house, after which he leaves.
At the end of the picture, the foundling arrives at the real estate agency, where he replaces the aged Martin, even taking away the badge with his name. A new agent welcomes another couple who are looking for a house.
Before giving an explanation to the film “Vivarium”, it should be noted that it was filmed in a specific genre that is now popular (in the spirit of the films: “Solstice”, “Mom!”, “Hell Next Door”, “Wishing Room”) – this is a horror parable.
In other words, understanding what happens in the film is much more important than what exactly happens in the story. In this regard, Martin’s phrase in the outset is significant, the essence of which was lost in the Russian translation. Literally, he said the following: “Beware, you two are about to enter the allegory.”
On the other side. The meaning of the film will be different for everyone. Director Lorcan Finnegan himself in an interview emphasizes that there is no wrong explanation of the film, although at the same time he gives direct answers to a number of questions of interest to the viewer.
Let’s start with things that are unlikely to be challenged, since the creators of the picture put a very bright emphasis on them. So, the name of the film speaks for itself: “Vivarium” In Russian, it would be more correct to say “vivarium” – such Latinism has long existed in our language. But domestic localizers, apparently, decided for advertising purposes to preserve the mystery of the sound, suitable for horror films. This word means a room for keeping and breeding animals that are used in experiments. The main characters are essentially laboratory rats for the creators of this artificial world.
The beginning of the Yonder region. Frame from the film.
At the beginning, we are shown a cuckoo chick. It is known that these birds throw their eggs to representatives of other birds. The same thing happened in the film: some creatures tossed their “cuckoo” to a young human couple.
But if the birds act instinctively, then the main characters succumbed to the influence of the system. It is not for nothing that we are shown a conversation between a doubting Gemma and her friend, who already has a child and who is pushing the girl to “make her own nest”. Tom also doubts whether it is worth rushing to buy a house and further family life.
This can be seen from his behavior in the real estate agency and the way he sings along to the song in the car with what expression on his face. Martin, a typical cog in the system, reminiscent of Agent Smith from The Matrix (the “cuckoo” with his black and white business suit will also look like him), manipulates young people using a typical trick for sellers: “Hurry up – everything can be sold out.”
The heroes succumbed to the society-imposed idea of their home and a happy family life.
Finnegan, in an interview with a question about the creators of Yonder (obviously a distortion from “wonder” – beautiful, wonderful), says: “These creatures are guided by the desires of people, but since they themselves are not people, they cannot give what you want . So they give you what you think you want.”
And indeed, the heroes get a house, they have a child – many people dream about this. But the bottom line is that desires, like everyone else, are nothing without individual fulfillment, without their own feelings. The bright idyllic picture on the advertising poster is just an image in the collective unconscious.
But those who are drugged by the system and do not listen to their inner voice peck at him. A “tasty” offer from a cunning seller actually turns out to be bad taste, as well as champagne with strawberries donated by the “firm”. Here, among other things, one can see a satire on capitalism and the consumer society.
Frame from the film.
The heroes cannot find a way out of the vivarium – their minds are too blinded by the system. They can only follow the instructions of the creators of this terrible little world and further: to accept the child and raise him. Tom makes an attempt to kill the boy, and Gemma, on the contrary, makes friends with him. But none of them brings the matter to the end – the system cannot be broken.
Gemma is left in oppressive loneliness alone with a monster child, and Tom “goes to work” every day, losing his strength and health. It is very similar to the life of unhappy families, mired in routine.
A foundling, apart from his physical differences, also looks like a typical child in the eyes of his parents. He takes resources from them, demands attention, is naughty.
His personality is shaped more by the internet and other people (in the film, the television, the book, and the off-screen creature the cuckoo meets, respectively) than by his parenting. Yes, and parents do not have any strength to educate the child correctly. As a result, they lose contact with the child – he becomes a complete stranger.
The meaning of the ending
The meaning of the ending of the film “Vivarium”, again, should be interpreted based on the fact that this is essentially a parable.
The finale of the picture is tragic: having raised a child, Tom and Gemma die. What happened was what the creators of the vivarium promised – the inscription on the box “… will be released” read about it. After all, “liberated” does not mean “released,” liberation is quite possible with the help of death. Heroes “pulled into a noose.” The image of the number nine (the number of the house in Yonder where the action takes place) works here. The director said that this is not only a reference to the nine months of pregnancy, but also the image of a circle-loop.
Before dying, Gemma sees parallel realities that are not much different from the one she and Tom lived in. It turns out that the rest of the test subjects lived approximately the same way as they did.
The system has reworked the heroes, having received a new cog in the face of a grown-up foundling who replaced another agent at the post. Probably, he, like the “previous Martin”, will just as empty and at the same time immaculately live his short life.
Tom’s attempt to find a way out of a closed system is digging a hole. Frame from the film.
The ending does not provide a detailed explanation of the true goals of the “aliens” or a description of the vivarium. In the context of the motives of the owners of Yonder, the analysis of individual plot details will also bring little. More important is the idea that the director and screenwriter tried to convey. More precisely, the thoughts and feelings that come to the mind of the audience after watching.
A non-canonical view of family and parenthood
Many critics in their reviews of the film accuse the authors of the controversial morality that they allegedly convey to the viewer: “Family and children will not lead to anything good.” But everything is far from being so simple and superficial.
The essence, or hidden meaning, is different: you should not follow the system, blindly do what others are doing, live according to the routine. Note that the heroes most likely had a real chance to escape from the vivarium.
And we were shown this in the episode when Gemma began to find a common language with the “cuckoo”. A little benevolent attitude – and he began to open up, even was ready to tell his secret. But the girl got scared and rejected the child.
The heroes sorely lacked love – for each other, for the foundling and for life. If they had dared to show it, perhaps by doing so they would have broken the system and the end would have been different. The same problem in many real families: people just live like everyone else, raise children without love, “as best they can” and die in deep disappointment.