Suburbia, society’s picture perfect environment in which to raise a family; a quiet neighborhood, a white picket fence; a beautiful cookie-cutter house indistinguishable from the next; a screaming child to wake you up in the morning and a job that becomes the bane of your existence. It’s the conventional lifestyle for which many young couples strive. Much to their dismay, this suburban dream of misery comes true for one young couple in Vivarium, a bizarre story of wonderment from director Lorcan Finnegan (Without Name, Foxes).
Transitioning into a new stage of life together, Tom (Jesse Eisenberg: The Social Network, Zombieland) and Gemma (Imogen Poots: 28 Weeks Later, Green Room) are in search for a home. Guided by a peculiar real estate agent, the unsuspecting couple is shown a suburban house in a neighborhood straight out of Malvina Reynolds’ song Little Boxes, the theme to the hit TV series Weeds. Marketed to be a “forever home,” a catch phrase that becomes more literal than first perceived, Tom and Gemma are perplexed when the agent vanishes without a trace.
With their tour coming to an abrupt end, the two puzzled lovebirds attempt to leave the neighborhood only to continuously arrive back where they started. Even as they travel on foot following the setting sun, they find themselves back at the “forever home” displaying the strange simple house number 9. Frustrated, desperate, and determined to escape this suburban cliché, Tom goes to extreme measures of arson hoping to send an S.O.S. … but to no avail. Although help does not arrive, a package mysteriously appears while the couple sleep on the sidewalk. Much to Tom and Gemma’s surprise upon awakening, not only is the house standing intact fire-free, but the box so inconspicuously delivered contains a baby boy with a note instructing them to raise the child. A child that would grow at an alarming rate. Fast tracked to parenthood, what unfolds is a mutated, metaphoric depiction of the modern, traditional family doomed to a repetitive, mundane existence. An existence that drains the life from a spark they once held.
Eisenberg and Poots own their roles portraying humorous, youthful adults full of enthusiasm for life and, by contrast, the gradual aging toll that follows during their stressful predicament. Rather than relying on the outward appearance of grey hair and wrinkling skin, Eisenberg and Poots project mannerisms that show the progressive aging of living a lifetime in the matter of mere months. This character arc is essential in conveying symbolism that reflects the repetitive suburbia life cycle of birth, work and death. Or, as the saying goes, living the same year 75 times and calling it a life.
As Gemma struggles with motherhood to a child she’s conflicted to see as her own, and rightfully so, Tom begins to resemble the stereotypical father who finally snaps, goes out for a pack of cigarettes and never comes back. Because their suburban neighborhood is a prison that he’s unable to leave by ordinary means, Tom begins digging a hole hoping for an escape, which becomes a career obsession. And this is their life. Eating the same tasteless food performing the same mundane tasks in the same cookie-cutter house surrounded by deafening silence in a neighborhood free from any semblance of unconventional originality. That is, until another outlandish turn of events sends Tom and Gemma further down the rabbit hole as Gemma vows to figure out their enigmatic situation with answers only their pseudo-child may hold.
Casual movie-goers seeking a mindless popcorn flick be warned. Finnegan’s visionary feature is far from a vacuous work of entertainment and holding such simple expectations will only leave some viewers sadly disappointed. Vivarium is an innovative, Twilight Zone-esque mind-bender that will make you question everything right down to reality itself. More importantly, however, it serves as a reminder that life is too short to chase society’s idealistic projection of what life should be. Driven by thrilling and intriguing mystery with a touch of humor, this mind-blowing non-genre specific feature is a reminder to live life in the moment appreciating all the things we take for granted.