Border (2018)

by Afra Nariman

Border (2018)

Director: Ali Abbasi

Stars: Eva Melander, Eero Milonoff


“As a child, I thought I was special. I had all these ideas about myself. But then I grew up and realized I was just a human being.”

Apologetic Disclaimer: This will probably be the most I’ve ever written on a film I didn’t love all that much. There were still a lot of interesting ideas floating around though, so here goes nothing lol

Extremely strange, but with some interesting aspects to analyze in the details. In tone, or in terms of the type of “weirdness” displayed in Border, the comparison (vaguely) that came to mind most while watching, is the weirdness found in the films of Yorgos Lanthimos — only Border does not feature Lanthimos’ dark comedic traits, which might be what keeps this film from being one that I liked more than I did. Nevertheless, there is something to the dark absurdity and emphasis on coincidence in the storyline’s beats and details that faintly echo Lanthimos’ style and leaves small traces of his weirdness, for lack of a better word. (Again, vaguely — this is not a full on comparison) 

Border is about many things. In this film, we’re given commentary on the nature of evil, and it’s relation to human beings — is evil something so unnatural to our world, that those of us acting through evil have what characterizes us as human beings essentially altered to the point of detection by anybody who is willing to pay close enough attention? The protagonist mentions that she can sense someone’s guilt, shame and fear — this hints that if evil was natural to us, perhaps these emotions would not arise to become noticed, or sensed. More on the nature of evil later. 

“Is it really possible to smell what people are feeling?”

Human beings wear their emotions on their sleeve more than most would care to admit. Generally, for anyone willing to pay attention, most people will show you exactly how they’re feeling in a given moment — only most of us fail to give others the attention or time or care, to really see each other. 

Border is also about the existential dilemma of growing up to realize the normality of existence; and perhaps what the film does best is explore humanity through the intersecting stories of two “non-humans,” effectively redefining how one should think about the word ‘human’ all together. The film is about human connection, when the aspects of what some people consider typically human are lacking: these characters cannot have children, they were born biologically and physically different, they don’t experience life the same as others do, etc. They are not “human” — and they embrace this fact, describing typical humans in a bad light (perhaps evil is natural to humans because evil itself is something unnatural —  in that all the evil in the world is artificially placed here by our actions and our thoughts, not by anything non-human or that is otherwise natural to the world). It is the two “non-human” characters in the film who discuss, and in some ways explore, what we typically assign to be considered essentially human. Humans generally think ourselves kind, that we have morals, that we’re capable of love, etc. — but humans are also notoriously capable of being mean, and for making others feel their differences. Humans bully, at least as much as they love. 

In one scene, one character says: 

“Humans are parasites that use everything on Earth for their own amusement… The entire human race is a disease.”

to which, the other responds: 

“Not all humans are evil.”

The film walks this line, as it portrays the complex correlation between evil and humanity. What it comes down to is: sure, not all humans are evil; but all evil comes from humans. 

Border also illustrates the human predicament of feeling lost in life, until you find someone who understands you for who you are, and notices the ways you reinvent what it means to be human — this is something that we all do because being human is too complex a box to judge people on, and this box is often not given enough care in its definition. To be human, is to feel lost. To be human, is to feel like you don’t always fit in.

Overall, Border hovers endlessly above awkward strangeness — which I usually love; but without offering us enough (dark) comedic relief, or many moments with dramatic payoff — at least for me, I never felt fully engaged enough to really invest in the film or it’s characters. Nevertheless, more than anything I respected the filmmaking on display here and appreciated the interesting aspects of it found in the details. 

Ali Abbasi has shown himself to be a very skilled, and notably bold filmmaker unafraid of taking risks in the films he’s made. Very excited to continue following his career.

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