OCEAN OF AN OLD MAN (Rajesh Shera, 2008)

Thomas, an old Englishman, has been a teacher at the government-run primary school in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, in the east Indian Ocean, probably since its launch thirty years earlier. It is 2004, the year an earthquake launches something else: a tsunami that kills 230,000 people, Thomas’s wife and daughter among them, and many of his pupils. Now Thomas, utterly alone, is visited by voices and visions of the dead as he plans teaching multiplication to an empty classroom—I was reminded of the Lutheran priest conducting service in an empty church in Bergman’s Winter Light (1962)—and searches for the children he has lost.

Rajesh Shera, who was born in Jaipur, Rajahstan, wrote, directed and edited this Hindi masterpiece. Tom Alter is good as Thomas, and Tapan Vyas contributes gorgeous, haunting color cinematography, especially in the  blues (ocean, sky) that dominate. Shot after shot surveys the ocean—implicitly, Thomas mesmerized by it. Shot after shot shows one or more boats on the ocean: a reminder of Thomas’s decision not to evacuate, despite the official warning that he must. Thomas wanders the shore and the forest; even his hallucinations of living children are brief, fleeting—an index of his determination to hold on to his sanity. There are no animals left on the islands.

This film, part of the Global Lens series, as far as I’m concerned, is essential viewing. It is grave beyond measure, but it makes one feel connected to close and distant humanity in the face not only of Nature’s awesome power but also its eternal spirit. It’s a work that gathers one up, imposing a lofty, existential mood. It expands a moment of loss into a panorama of loss and, sadly though mercifully, of the human condition.

 

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