One of the year’s most acclaimed films showed us a post-apocalyptic future by diving into the details, not just of what it would look like, but of the ways in which desperation and fear can drive us to become monsters—or warriors. One of its most anticipated films takes us to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, and the epic story is all but guaranteed to be matched by the accompanying visual spectacle. Big-budget movies have the power to transport us in countless ways, showing us futuristic or far-away visions straight from the imaginations of some of the world’s most accomplished creative minds.
Movement and Location does all that in a van, two apartments, a diner, and a park or two.
Directed by Alexis Boling and written, edited, and starring Bodine Boling, Movement and Location is as smart a piece of sci-fi as one could hope to see. It doesn’t need a Furiosa or a Starkiller Base to get the job done. It just drops details here and there, some only gently inferred, and lets imaginations just as potent as any director’s get the job done: those of the audience.
When Kim (Boling) first appears, she and her coworker Marcel (Haile Owusu) seem like exactly the kind of well-intentioned, socially awkward hipsters you’d expect to see wandering parks in Brooklyn and doing homeless outreach. Off the clock, Kim has a roommate (Amber, winningly played by Anna Margaret Hollyman) and not much else. It’s an odd, flat existence, and she’s an odd, flat person. Her disinterest in connecting with Amber, coupled with her tendency to repeat the occasional interesting turn of phrase, renders her basically alone even when someone else is in the room.
That all changes pretty quickly, courtesy of a call from the cops about a vagrant teenage girl (Catherine Missal, equal parts feral and radiant). Kim’s employer, City Hope, doesn’t take kids, but a quick glance at the girl’s wrist reveals an imprinted circle—something Kim shares. From that point, the movie shoots off like a deer through the woods, with Kim knocking down pillar by pillar of her carefully constructed life in order to make room for this new arrival.
There’s no way to talk about Movement and Location without revealing what these two women have in common, so if you want to see the film completely unspoiled, stop reading here. It’s worth seeing, beautifully acted, and gracefully directed with a screenplay that’s not remotely inaccessible but nevertheless asks a lot of its audience in the best possible way. Consider this a very positive review, buy a ticket, and bring a friend. If you don’t care about spoilers—and this one, while important, won’t ruin the film for you—then read on.
Kim and the girl, Rachel, have both come from a far-distant future, by means of a one-way system that can pinpoint only a 20-year window in time. The details of that future get sprinkled throughout, but there’s precious little exposition, a choice that may be the film’s single greatest strength. We learn what we can based on throwaway lines and reactions: confusion at leaving on a light, horror at overfilling a pot for boiling pasta, bewilderment about the sizing of clothes, a new calendar. At a certain point, Rachel sings a snippet of a pop song, which Kim recognizes as one by a pop star long dead in her day. The same singer was very much alive in Rachel’s time, and the realization that the younger woman comes from an earlier era inserts an unsettling tension into the relationship that never abates.
It’s not the only difficulty. Whether linked to idealism, naivete, or simply coming from a time where it still feels like things could be changed, Rachel’s arrived with a desire to tell people about where she’s come from, and what they can do to change the world before things go too wrong. Kim knows enough about the world in which she’s landed to warn her that such an approach can only end badly. They’re without identities, or in possession of identities so precariously constructed that a faint wind from the wrong direction—say, from a cute and well-meaning cop (the charming Brendan Griffin) who wants to make sure a teenage runaway is doing okay—could send it all tumbling down.
Like the best science fiction, Movement and Location uses its precise circumstances to paint another picture—that of the life of an immigrant in a country that often doesn’t welcome them with anything but suspicion and resentment. Boling’s restrained performance does more to communicate this fear than many well-meaning, glossy prestige pictures could with a cast of dozens and an astronomical budget. She’s almost never without armor. She’s desperate not to be noticed. Not even a connection with her past, courtesy of Rachel’s attempts to reach others, manages to break down the wall entirely—a few brief moments of tenderness remain spiked with caution, with fear, with resentment, with guilt. She smiles, and it seems out of place hovering above her carefully-practiced mask. She’s a stranger in a strange land, and has learned one lesson above all: it’s best not to be noticed.
It’s when that lesson finally fails her that the wheels come off the wagon a bit, both for Kim and for the film as a whole. The tension remains palpable, the discoveries and wounds grow still more painful, but with every outside intrusion into Kim’s carefully constructed bubble, the film’s plausibility begins to fall away. Rachel’s friendship with an older park-dweller (David Andrew Macdonald) soars at the outset but gradually begins to feel less and less believable. The trouble really begins when a detective (Johnny Dapolito) descends on the scene, brusquely manhandling his sequence and so gleefully chewing the scenery that it feels more like Dapolito saw the film as an opportunity to land a recurring role on a cop show, rather than to serve the story. It’s a note so off, and so out of place, that both Kim’s story and the movie collapse a bit under its weight. It’s remarkable that a scene so brief can have the power to tank a final act, but when a cast member seems so determined to do just that, perhaps it can’t be stopped.
Still, missteps aside, Movement and Location is a rare creation. It doesn’t ever demand from its audience. It doesn’t beg for praise or prestige. It doesn’t show off. It doesn’t need to do any of that. Rather than yanking its audience into an overwhelming world, it simply opens the smallest of doors to what exists inside: a glance here, a grimace there, a tightening of the shoulders or a single tear rolling down a cheek. It leaves plenty of open space, and lets you fill in the gaps. These people are forced to create their own existence, and we’re asked to do the same. And just like their means of traveling to the past, that kind of experience is a one-way ticket. It gets in your bones, and there’s no going back.