Extraterrestrial – An Absurdist Fable
This film was clearly right up my alley, which is why my good friend Chris recommended it to me. I’d already seen and loved Nacho Vigalando’s “TimeCrimes” and had put his newest film on my list, so I was glad to get the reminder. More and more I’ve been using the term ‘absurdist fable’ to describe my own stories, and this film fits right in there. Normally when we think of fables we think of Aesop, and expect a pithy little moral to be tacked on to the end – the greedy dog loses his bone, for example. To expect an absurdist fable to have such a moral would be to lack any sense of the absurd, and this is what I’ve seen from most of the reviews of this movie (and of many of my stories as well).
To summarize the “plot”. A man wakes up in an unfamiliar apartment. He’s apparently been sleeping with a beautiful young woman he doesn’t know. She doesn’t know him either. It seems to have been a drunken one-night stand for them both. Soon they make a few other discoveries – there’s no phone service, the TV isn’t broadcasting, the internet is down, there is no one in the streets, and there is a huge flying saucer hovering over their city, Madrid. If this were Hollywood, you could easily imagine the rest of the movie from there – complete with strangers, aliens, teams, explosions and a tidy ending. ‘Extraterrestrial’ provides all those ingredients, but not in any way you would expect.
Aliens never appear, unless one or more of the five visible characters in the film have actually been ‘replaced’ by alien counterparts. This suspicion falls upon all three of the men who are in love with Julia, in whose apartment most of the movie takes place. These are Julio (the protagonist), Carlos (Julia’s naive, sweet and randomly dangerous boyfriend) and Angel (the creepy stalker who lives next door). As in ‘Timecrimes’, one well-intentioned mistake or white lie leads to another as things in general continually move on from the frying pan into the fire. Meanwhile, there may or may not be an alien invasion occurring, but who cares? Carlos must not at any cost find out that Julio and Julia may have had sex!
Most of the reviews I’ve seen have labelled it a ‘dark romantic comedy’ and have complained about the minor role played by the aliens. They are left ‘confused and frustrated’ like those readers deprived of the ancient three-part structure! But most of us (all who are at least teenagers) actually lived in the twentieth century, where humans such as Picasso, Einstein, Kafka, Bunuel, Jimi Hendrix and even (gack) Steve Jobs had already shown us that it’s possible – even necessary – to re-envision reality sometimes and ‘think different’. The sense of the absurd allows us to attempt this feat with a bit of humor, so that we can laugh at our meagre concerns while acknowledging the vast and perenially threatening complexities that hover and surround us always.