Director: Ronnie R. Vogt
Writer: Ronnie R. Vogt
Cast: Désirée Eugene, Ralph Gygax, Matthias Braun
Running time: 24mins
An existential movie typically deals with a world or a life that is devoid of any predetermined meaning, rules, or justice. This usually centres on the struggles of a confused protagonist, searching for personal meaning amid an absurd world that presents no objective meanings of its own.
It is a difficult narrative arc to craft; and independent filmmakers who underestimate that often end up making viewers feel more like they are trapped in the kitchen of a house party with a wasted philosophy undergraduate, than in the company of Stanley Kubrick or Werner Herzog. That is not to say it can’t be done – Kim Collmer’s gorgeous animation Silver Seeds is a compelling example of what can be achieved – with a little restraint, and self-awareness – when crafting a story about determining the ‘meaning’ of your own fleeting existence. But for every film like that, there are invariably many more outings like Bardo, Ceci ñ’est pas un bateau, or Notes from the New World, insisting that you take them seriously because they just skimmed a Sartre digest.
Ronnie R. Vogt’s Heute ist das Morgen von Gestern very quickly outstays its welcome for this reason. Throughout its 24-minute run-time, the film’s creators seem less concerned with building a relationship with their audience than representing how broadly read they are.
Following a young woman simply named ‘Dame’ (Désirée Eugene), the action begins with a voice-mail message explaining she is heading to the mountains for a weekend away. Dame has inherited a house from her great-uncle, who she suggests at certain moments ‘went crazy’ alone in the Alps. Only encountering two people briefly during her stay, cabin fever soon sets in, and Dame finds herself confronted by various embodiments of her own wandering thoughts. And despite this sounding like the set-up for a relatively banter-filled story of self-discovery, the result has been given a clinical fun-ectomy by a timid and unimaginative script.
Désirée Eugene cuts a forlorn figure throughout the action – and while she does her best to seem as though she is bouncing back and forth with herself, there is a lack of weight to the conversations; they lack emotional engagement, with each iteration of her inner-self rattling off stilted philosophy without interruption. The editing does not help – each sentence coming to a full end and a moment of pause before anything else is said – leaving the dialogue lacking the cut-and-thrust it needs to carry us along with it.
One version of Dame is decidedly revolutionary – determined to dispel any doubts about her inner moral code and to live it to the letter. The segment ends with the persona becoming frustrated with Dame’s indecisive and muted response, slashing a sword toward the camera to suggest it is attacking Dame. Because the figures do not appear together, it is a movement that again carries no weight, and does little to energise the rambling segment. At the same time, we’ve seen little to tell us that Dame was in need of such a pep talk. Having her face some kind of problem where she is caught in the proverbial headlights, which learning from this version of herself could help her address later, might have helped us relate to the scenario or invest in the philosophy it centres on.
The following incarnations of Dame similarly feel like they are responding to issues we are not party to. Suggesting that you should not be too zealous in the pursuit of certain causes, one persona gives a meandering monologue about the fleeting nature of life, its lack of inherent meaning, and its perceived pointlessness when considered next to the infinite void to which it will once again return. Another, meanwhile, blurts out a textbook’s worth of theory on the chemical reactions of the human body, and the uninspiring biological truths behind human concepts of love and pleasure – but suggests there is perhaps something liberating about embracing that, and pursuing it anyway.
Again, all this might have been a lot more compelling if we had some window into Dame’s wider life, and a reason to care why she might learn any of these lessons. But it seems to be far more important that we know that writer-director Vogt has read Heidegger, Kierkegaard or Camus.
Even if there were some way for us to invest in the main character, however, it would ultimately be for nothing. Just as it seems like Dame may at last be embracing any of the suggestions from her other versions, Heute ist das Morgen von Gestern completely negates what little progress it made. Essentially it opts for a grim variant on the ‘it was all a dream’ trope, making everything we witnessed feel spectacularly pointless. Because after all this, Dame was dead all along. The opening voice-mail message plays, and we see her laying still on the ground, eyes open – having never embarked on her adventure at all.
That ending may be an attempt to remind us of the brevity of life, or the idea that if we do not go out and seize the day, it may pass us by. But if so, it becomes especially infuriating – because most of us already know this, and have wasted 20 minutes of that precious, finite life-energy on watching such self-important dreck.