Bokeh movie review: blurry, lonely lives at the end of the world

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Bokeh red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

A pretty blur of an apocalypse happens to pretty, blurry people in this dull SF drama. This end of the world brought to you by the Reykjavik Tourist Board.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): big science fiction fan
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Bokeh is a photographic term that, to quote Wikipedia, means “the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image.” I suppose that the philosophical application of that could be something like: “Life is what is happening in the foreground, and all the stuff that’s out of focus behind you may be pretty but isn’t as important.” And I suppose that that is meant to be advice to — or a lesson to be learned by — Jenai (Maika Monroe: Independence Day: Resurgence, The 5th Wave) and Riley (Matt O’Leary: The Lone Ranger, In Time), an American couple on vacation in Iceland who wake up one morning to discover that, while they were asleep, everyone else on the planet seems to have disappeared. Everyone is just… gone. There are no bodies, but whatever happened, it was instantaneous: they find a car in the middle of a Reykjavik street that isn’t only running but is still in drive. They wander the city trying to find someone, anyone else, and wonder what happened: The Rapture? Aliens? Why were they left behind? Is God messing with them? They don’t ask any questions we haven’t heard in numerous similar science fiction dramas,tweet and they find no answers, except that it does appear that all of humanity has disappeared: the Internet is still working, though of course no sites have been updated, and live webcams are showing that public places all over the planet are absolutely deserted.

City so empty... but that sure does look like brake lights in the, er, bokeh.
City so empty… but that sure does look like brake lights in the, er, bokeh.tweet

With no planes flying, obviously, they can’t go home, so Jenai and Riley start to make a lonely life for themselves, living off the well-stocked supermarkets and automated geothermal power. The problem with Bokeh is that the stuff in focus, their new lonely little life, isn’t terribly compelling.tweet Debuting writer-directors Geoffrey Orthwein and Andrew Sullivan have nothing meaningful to say about Jenai and Riley’s predicament, and they find nothing even slightly diverting in their situation: their protagonists don’t run naked through the streets or joyride buses around the city or anything. (A tepid joyride by Riley in a supermarket wagon ends in a minor mishap that would appear to have put the kibosh on them trying anything fun afterward.)

Still, there are people who would be worth spending time with at the end of the world, even if they’re *ahem* just sitting around talking. Riley and Jenai are not these people. Forget about them going wild, or whatever: they barely even seem capable of thinking about going wild, or whatever. (The craziest thing they do is move out of their hotel into someone’s very nice apartment. Then they play Monopoly. Really.) Riley and Jenai are also seemingly incapable of having fascinating existential breakdowns: just imagine thinking you were the only people on the planet. Not much in the way of engaging angst emanates from them, though.

Riley and Jenai are perhaps the least interesting companions you could have for an apocalypse.
tweet

Jenai in particular seems to have no inner resources at all: she could spend days and weeks reading literally anything (there are hella cool bookstores in Reykjavik, and plenty of English-language books; shit, you could even learn to read Old Norse with nothing else to keep you busy), but she longs for a book she left at home, that specific copy, for reasons purely sentimental. Riley is a photographer, and he keeps taking photos with his odd retro film camera that will never be developed, which is perhaps meant to represent some sort of hope, or some sort of… something? — it’s not really clear what. These two are perhaps the least interesting companions you could have for the apocalypse. Why are we spending this time with them, Bokeh?

Bokeh certainly loves the bokeh of Iceland: the film serves nicely as tourist-board porn for Reykjaviktweet and the surrounding countryside. But Jenai and Riley are themselves never much more than a pretty blur, either.



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RogerBW
RogerBW
Fri, Mar 31, 2017 10:35am

Or I could just watch Die Wand again. (Recommended!)

RogueWitch Blackheart
RogueWitch Blackheart
Fri, Apr 14, 2017 12:09pm

I have never in my life seen a film as poor as this as it comes off as something written by people who should not be telling stories. The film is vacuous and the characters behave as if the are heartless and soulless bourgeois teens whose reaction to a holocaust is to go shopping for clothes, cars, and a fancy new pad. It is obvious that the writers and actors have no life experience and possibly even double digit IQ’s simply because nothing at all makes sense. Only soulless sociopaths would make vague attempts to contact their family in such a calm manner. They barely attempt to discover what has happened. Attempted high;ights are when the male character makes a “gingerbread latte” for his vapid girlfriend and the fights they have are about eating yogurts in the proper due date order. Are you kidding me? Where is everyone? How do they vanish and these 2 people live? Nothing suggests even the most remote possibility that this film’s story could happen. The veil of fiction does not exist. You can see through the characters as being these extremely shallow individuals who are more concerned about fashion and lattes than most anything else. To wit, the only book mentioned, To Kill a Mockingbird, is at a grade 7 – 8 reading level and forced on people to read. How can this guy go hunting for anything when he cant even make a coffee properly? How could there even be animals to hunt for if all humans are gone? Did the animals live? If everyone is gone, with no bodies and no indication of anything in the film that would explain why … well this is a non-film. Turn the volume off and use it as a way to see iceland from afar.

Blythe
Blythe
reply to  RogueWitch Blackheart
Sun, Jun 25, 2017 8:00am

calm the fuck down

Daren Collins
Daren Collins
reply to  RogueWitch Blackheart
Mon, Aug 21, 2017 1:16pm

a totally perfect review!

Annette Williams
Annette Williams
Tue, Jun 27, 2017 9:25pm

I knew something was off with this film when I stopped whitin 15 to see what town they used and how did they get people to skiddal while the fim. If they had asked OPEN more friggin time what happen, wheres everybody……I’d have lost it..argh..no depth to the charactoers at all…..the beginning set nothign up…she gets up at 3 dlash of green light…(where was he at). wakes up 6 hours later (where come from)- going to look for Die Wand now

Weismonger
Weismonger
Wed, Jun 28, 2017 11:52pm

Bokeh was the worst movie I have ever seen in my entire life. I’ve seen 1950 movies that were boring and stupid, but this takes the prize. Do not waste your time unless you need something to make you go to sleep pissed off that you clicked on this stupid, dumb movie. I may not ever watch another film from Iceland for the rest of my life. Totally a brain dead movie.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Weismonger
Sun, Jul 02, 2017 10:47pm

Why on earth would you refuse to watch an entire nation’s film output because *one* film set there disappointed you?

Jeff
Jeff
Wed, Jul 05, 2017 4:01am

This was a terrible movie. I watched it to the end just in hopes that there would be some redeeming social value. Then Jenai kills herself and perhaps the human race loses it’s last chance.
What a crap view of the world.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Jeff
Wed, Jul 05, 2017 8:44am

Don’t spoil in comments without adding a spoiler alert, please!!

Daren Collins
Daren Collins
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Mon, Aug 21, 2017 1:16pm

seriously? there is nothing to spoil!

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Daren Collins
Tue, Aug 22, 2017 3:12pm

Of course there is. Just because we didn’t like the movie doesn’t make it cool to ruin it for others who would like to check it out for themselves.

Helitron
Helitron
Fri, Jul 07, 2017 10:15pm

I don’t know…if I were in an apocalypse and met those two guys, I would rather keep living on my own than join them.

Katie Pearl
Katie Pearl
Sat, Jul 08, 2017 3:35am

My problem with this movie is that… I get it. I love the idea, and I honestly love the idea that no one knows what the hell is going on. It’s fresh and suspenseful. The problem is that, like other people have said, these characters are fucking boring as hell. Unfortunately, I also get that. It’s a Scandinavian (specifically Danish) type of film-making. Like Dogma films. The characters are boring and relatable, which I do completely love. You just can’t mix dogma with intense drama like everyone in the world disappearing. You’re not going to get a cohesive film. I loved the monopoly moment, to be honest, because I turned to my boyfriend and I was like “this is totally what we would do — we’d play a fucking board game haha.” That’s cute until it turns into suicide and life or death. Then, the film just doesn’t work. They’re too boring. They didn’t have a breakdown early enough. They didn’t even question reality until like 3 days in. It just wasn’t the right move. If you’re looking for a great apocalyptic themed filmed with ultra-realistic Scandinavian undertones, watch Wave (or Børgen). It’s beautiful and perfect. You get those relatable moments when you question yourself and humanity, but you also get some extreme end-of-the-world action. The trick with this mixture of reality and the end of the world is scale, I think. In Wave, the scale is just one town, but it feels like the whole world. The Leftovers adds more drama and sci-fi. Even the Last Man on Earth does an okay job because 1) it adds humor and 2) their world is so small and limited. Bokeh failed by somehow claiming ultra-reality and extreme apocalypse. It just can’t work that way. I do wish they had done a better job though, because a similar idea has potential. The Leftovers probably took that idea, though, lol.

juss.sayin
juss.sayin
Wed, Jul 12, 2017 8:52am

Why were they “not able” to develop the pictures, but the pictures got developed?

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  juss.sayin
Wed, Jul 12, 2017 12:26pm

Which pictures got developed?

juss.sayin
juss.sayin
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Wed, Jul 12, 2017 9:38pm

The pictures from his camera he took of her the whole movie. She left them on the table for him, or something left them on the table. Remember? He started looking at them by the sink and took them and dropped them outside, then ran off to find her. She got progressively sadder in those pics. It was kind of a big deal.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  juss.sayin
Thu, Jul 13, 2017 11:29am

I don’t recall all the details and I’m certainly not going to waste time rewatching the film. Is it plot hole that photos that he wasn’t able to develop get developed? Or did they learn how to do the developing. I can’t remember. Sorry.

Have you just watched the movie? What did you get out of the photo thing?

Bored
Bored
Fri, Aug 11, 2017 5:07am

Boring. The story, the characters, the movie.

ullr Olsen
ullr Olsen
reply to  Bored
Sun, Aug 16, 2020 4:06pm

I think it helps the viewer to have lived on an island. Physically cut off from most of the world. Such people seem to perceive these characters quite differently than you folks do.

Jay_8008
Jay_8008
Fri, Oct 20, 2017 9:43pm

This movie would have been 100% better without the two leads – the camera just endlessly panning over empty but beautiful scenery, without the charisma-free leads getting in the way.

ullr Olsen
ullr Olsen
Sun, Aug 16, 2020 4:06pm

I don’t follow the reviewer’s insistent complaint: they are so NOT me! Duh. Start there and you might reflect on this film as I did. And find something different of value, like something of a visual Hamlet.

the real radfast
the real radfast
Sun, Aug 16, 2020 4:03pm

“Understated – Dark – Sci-Fi Drama” was Netflix’ poster summary. My kind of film, I thought. Not so much, it turned out. I watched it through anyhow because I needed an antidote to The Loft, and I had this Icelandic pen pal when I was 18 so I’m biased pro Iceland.

Totally agree with the review from the always-reliable Ms Johanson. These characters were so insipid, lacking in curiosity, and thoroughly vacuous. After a few minutes they were already getting on my nerves and, I suspect, each other’s. Jenai needled me especially: Riley, doing his best to keep her spirits up – his Swiss Family Robinson contraption was actually kind of impressive for such a chump – received nothing but a range of sulky expressions for his troubles. The only time she looked happy was a scene with an Icelandic pony (OK, fair enough I guess, the pony was cute).

I found it interesting that despite the end of the world scenario they could think of nothing else to do except continuing to visit Iceland’s tourist attractions. Having already done the top 5 on their list like any self-respecting tourists, they moved on to numbers 6 to 20 which became progressively less interesting. They didn’t seem to engage in much sex, though I would think that would be a staple activity for a healthy young couple facing the end of days (what about re-populating the world?)

The independent ‘sci-fi’ genre is a popular choice for novice, under-funded film makers. It’s because there are plenty of sci-fi stories which need little in the way of cast or location shooting, especially if the whole movie takes place on a single spaceship or space base. Delights such as Europa Report and Moon, or the older Silent Running show what can be achieved by those skilled in the craft.

Recommended alternatives to Bokeh: the good fun Troll Hunter if you want something Nordic and off-beat; The Signal for an independent sci-fi movie with some similar motifs but a far better story.