Within seconds, you can tell that Evan Viera‘s Caldera is going to be a beautiful and haunting film. Caldera is beautiful, mesmerising, and challenging, pushing the boundaries of reality and irreality.
A surreal world where anything is possible, where nightmares run wild, and where beauty can be found anywhere or a washed out, pilled up world of harsh stagnant light and humanity’s drudgery.
This is the choice our protagonist must make. It’s a film where very little happens. Rather than adventure and excitement, we’re given a psychological portrait of a human, which is no easy thing to do in film, especially when you’re not using words. This kind of internality is typically found in literature, but Viera pushes this inner struggle and projects it on the world around us.
It’s a profoundly gorgeous film that says a lot about the nature of reality. Much can be taken from this vision, but it may be useful to look at where it comes from. In Viera’s own words:
CALDERA is inspired by my father’s struggle with schizoaffective disorder. In states of delusion, my father has danced on the rings of Saturn, spoken with angels, and fled from his demons. He has lived both a fantastical and haunting life, but one that’s invisible to the most of us. In our differing understanding of reality, we blindly mandate his medication, assimilate him to our marginalizing culture, and entirely misinterpret him for all he is worth. CALDERA aims to not only venerate my father, but all brilliant minds forged in the haunted depths of psychosis.
Viera takes something from his life and transforms it into something amazing for the world: An award winning film about mental health.
That’s not a sentence you read often but maybe it should be. And even that feels limiting. When people hear mental health, they think of something stark and clinical, but Viera shows us a beautiful world that opens up.
These visions and the journey she goes on may not be real to us, but they’re certainly real to her.
What makes something real? There’s the assumption that it must exist outside of us, be observable and experienced by the rest of humanity, but how much of our life is really like that? Everything you can think of is true. Every life you can imagine becomes real. When you create something new, or even when you recreate something old, you’re changing the shape of reality. When you read a book or a poem or watch a movie or listen to music, those emotions and sensations they create in you are real. Harry Potter or Pinocchio or Frodo may not exist in our world but that doesn’t mean they’re not real or that they can’t change our lives. We’ve all experienced the Death of loved ones, but that doesn’t make that sensation universal. Yes, we have all lost, but only I lost the people I knew and how I knew them. Those wires of connection were only severed for me, because humans connect differently to one another.
And in the same way that we connect differently to others, so too do we connect differently to the world. We feel it, taste it, hear it, see it, and understand it differently than others. To be human is to live in a world of contradiction, in a world of flux, and this can isolate us, burden us, weigh us down until we stop being at all.
When you read the news or all the thought articles of the day on the billions of sites that produce these opinion and think pieces, you’re assaulted by differences. We constantly highlight the ways we’re different. How men can’t understand women. How Europeans can’t understand Africans, how the rich can’t understand the poor, how southerners can’t understand yankees, how white feminists can’t understand all other feminists, how cis-gendered people can’t understand transgendered people, and on and on and on.
Everything is put into conflict. Everything is separate.
We are human but we are nothing alike and will never be alike.
Caldera bridges this gap. Rather than sit down and explain the ways mental health can determine and change your perceptions, Viera shows us how the world can melt away and transform before out very eyes.
The world is not a cold, dead place. It is infinitely alive, infinitely opening, infinitely changing, and to see with these eyes connected to this brain we call disordered is to see a world not subject to reality, but a world that has a playful relationship to reality. Rather than dragging its feet through the limitations of sense and reason and physical laws, it skips merrily along, throwing gravitation and thermodynamics away.
We need more art like Caldera. We need more humans who want to connect humanity.
There are very good reasons to highlight differences between different groups of humans, but if we end discussion there, if that’s the landing point for all discussion, then we build a more limited and harsher world. We build a world with sharp lines separating us from every other potential group or classification of human.
We give up this world of beauty and flux as seen through eyes we’ll never see through.
Caldera is a gift. It’s a monument to our own flummoxing brains, our own troubling existence, and a way to see through these walls we’ve erected so high and thick.
I want to live in a more beautiful world and so I fall deeply and effortlessly in love with art like this.
I hope you do too.