I watched a very interesting documentary the other night, interesting but very disturbing. It is called The Sound of Insects: Record of a Mummy directed by Peter Liechti. Ryan and I had decided to watch something before bed, and I let him peruse Netflix and make the choice, not really paying attention to his choice. The opening scene was of several people pulling up to a wooded area in winter in what I read as a Scandinavian or perhaps Eastern European country. I watched this assuming that with the title and natural setting he had chosen some nature documentary. I further assumed that due to my dwindling level of energy I would crash out pretty quickly.
My assumptions changed, however, when images of a body being removed from the woods accompanied by a woman’s voice narrating the story of a mummified body that had been discovered in the woods by a hunter. The body was found in a makeshift tent of tarps and was estimated to have been dead for 100 days or so. The mummified corpse was recovered clutching a small notebook, which upon further examination turned out to be a written account of this man’s suicide by voluntary starvation. The film becomes an account of these journal entries based on the true story of the mummified man and the novella based on the true story called Until I Am a Mummy by Shimada Masahiko. The viewer is taken through the journey of this man’s slow march to meet death. I won’t give too much more away, but, suffice to say, hearing those entries read aloud in a monotone, cold male voice is nothing short of haunting.
The readings are accompanied with shots of the forest and wetlands, which I assumed were those in which he died. I am not sure, though. These shots are at once beautiful and eerie. There are also strange short sequences of a commuter train and pin ball machines which eventually give way to grainy, distorted dreamlike shots of random people and places meant, by the filmmaker, to represent the dying man’s inner thoughts. In my VERY limited knowledge of film technique, I could only think to describe it as modernist. The soundtrack played against the increasingly strange imagery actually reminded me a lot of Ballet Mechanique.
For me the experience of watching this film was a mix of extreme discomfort and complete fascination. As a viewer, one knows what the ultimate fate of the journal’s author is. However, I found myself and my own survival instinct willing this man to continue living and hoping someone would come upon him and rescue him. In his final days, when his body was truly shutting down its last faculties and his life force was flickering only dimly, I felt myself wishing he would finally die. Watching this was an incredibly moving and as Ryan noted, almost inspirational experience. I have always had a dark fascination with the boundary between life and death and the process in which a human being transforms into a corpse. To have such an intimate view of this process was darkly beautiful.
I highly recommend this film but only to those with an existential flair and a strong stomach. It is by no means an easy watch but definitely a fascinating one.