Canadian films have a reputation for being strange. Perhaps living next to a country that adopts a traditional classical narrative that ties up films with neat little bows makes Canadian filmmakers prone to creating off-the-wall movies. Director and screenwriter Daniel Cockburn’s film You are Here is most definitely strange and quirky, and by far the most original film I’ve seen so far this year. Its plot is certainly hard, if not impossible, to summate, as a traditional plot as such does not exist. But that certainly doesn’t mean the film has no story; far from it.
The first section of the film shows random people carrying out various daily activities; however, a voiceover indicates what that random person might be thinking. The various strange thoughts that go through the human mind that may or may not have to do with their very existence, that thought that sits in the back of your mind and to which your mind keeps returning. In another sequence, a lonely archivist (played by the late, great Toronto actor Tracy Wright) keeps a strange catalogue of random papers, cassettes and videotapes she finds abandoned on the street. In another, an experiment is undertaken on the understanding of language; a man in a kind of cell is given exercises to translate Mandarin, a language of which he has no knowledge. He is given a strange volume of books which operate like Choose Your Own Adventure in order to translate. All of these sequences seem random at first, but a pattern appears. They are all (to quote the film) working models of the human mind. They are all manifestations of how we see the different parts of our brain interpret and compartmentalize the information we are given about the world around us. When we think about where we want to go and how we want to get there, what do we think about? Not just the streets we could walk down, but the people we might encounter. How do you file information in your head? How to do ‘archive’ the random images, or file what people have said or the strange things you have seen? How do you envision the place in your mind where language is interpreted?
Cockburn poignantly finds a strange expression for how people think, the thoughts that we think no one else will understand, and our attempt to interpret the world around us. All of these stories are connected by what seems to be a session with a motivational speaker, who is asking his audience to look at waves in a certain way. What way will the waves take you? Do we have any control or is it all random? Cockburn poses these and other questions in a unique, understated and completely enchanting way.