Vivarium: Getting Stuck in the Family Trap

Outrageous and socially untamed, “Vivarium”, directed by Lorcan Finnegan, was introduced to the public at the last Cannes Film Festival. And the film goes beyond amusement thanks to the horrific emotion we feel not only for its special genre but the reality which entraps us all. Which trap? Family, children, new house, work around the clock, and an overdue mortgage payment.

“Vivarium” was inspired by the lifestyles of young couples in Ireland.  A similar zombie-like cycle seems at home in Dublin and also other cities in other countries in the world where people live. A prejudiced attitude towards other people’s lives creates a vivarium, a place of natural habitat, where almost everything is predetermined and each of the heroes probably has the same future – study, work, family, debts. This is a tough view of our time. Young families are forced to sacrifice themselves and tighten their belts for a future that only a few people actually want.


Watching the Film Is Like Watching Your Life

Jesse Eisenberg
Jesse Eisenberg / Photo: Shutterstock – DFree
Imogen Poots
Imogen Poots / Photo: Shutterstock – Featureflash Photo Agency

Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) decide to buy their first house. They go to an estate agency where the realtor suggests looking at an ideal place in the village of Yonder. All the houses in this village are identical, built for family nests with children’s rooms, which, by the way, are already determined – there will be a boy. While they explore the house, realtor Martin disappears, leaving Gemma and Tom in a stalemate, since they`ve been trapped in a routine. Day after day, each day is the same. Then they find a child. Out of nowhere, it is not clear who leaves a large box by the door with a crumb with the inscription: “Raise a child and you will be released.” As if in a vicious circle, Gemma and Tom turn into zombies.  Their lives are destroyed, and what used to bring pleasure turns into a slow and painful suicide. All dreams of a happy future break against the rock of routine. Therefore, we see that Tom gets away from the problem by finding something to do – digging in the garden in an attempt to escape from reality while Gemma turns on the maternal instinct, becoming frustrated with raising a child.

Lorcan Finnegan
Lorcan Finnegan / Photo: Shutterstock – Luis Javier Villalba

The director quite boldly and harshly interprets family life, linking it with the conditions for survival. I believe that his perspective is an exploration of extremes, a total distortion of happy reality. We are frustrated, as it is usual to ignore a problem instead of solving it. The hard decision is to truly reveal that you are not living your life. However, it’s easier to hide your head in the sand than to choose freedom and a feeling of complete independence. Many of us do this, or something like it. Well, for example, pretending that people lose contact and separate from each other.

Many happy couples, once friends and people with the same dreams, turn into strangers. Just one more price for living comfortably. This is not about the warmth that comes with family relationships. Rather, it is convenient to be together when no one bothers anyone and does not try to figure out what is wrong. Sometimes people realize they are with the wrong person, but do nothing to change. And then the intimacy, which for some is lost due to circumstances, for others never even arises. Gemma and Tom are in the middle of a society that requires them to adjust to market prices, buy real estate at a good price, find a good option for living. Without even asking: is it so much needed that you must betray your inner self?


To Obey Someone Rules Means Being Destroyed Before You Get Started

In an interview, the director poses the heart of the matter as the framework of social compression. Freedom and rights are completely dictated by the rules that have been established in society for years. Who needs to be rich? Why should we have opinions about people? Why not just let everyone be? The initial episode, where the cuckoo pushes the chick out of the nest to find a place to live, shows that each of us strives to survive and is looking for a place under the sun. This is a kind of battle, like the natural selection that is part of life.  Animals and birds may be forced to get used to the fact of fighting naturally, but people still have a choice. It’s strange that from childhood we are taught to obey and live like everyone else around us.

After all, not only the topic of the social framework is shown in the plot. Sacrificing and parenting are put forward. The perennial problem – when parents give part of their lives to raising the child. Sacrificing unconsciously. Just what Gemma experiences concerning the son. She spends half of her life raising a child because it is written in the rules. Waiting for the freedom she cherishes, she and Tom are locked in the long foot race of life, sprinting to an invisible finish – when the child grows up. On the other hand, their son selfishly takes over their lives. In the end, everything is reduced to the fact that he is callous even to their death. Compared with actual parenting, it`s a pity to realize how many families struggle with emotional isolation. Finally, the grown hero who is the son returns to the real world. He comes to work in the same real estate agency where the heroes once came to look for a home. The aged realtor dies right at the workplace and is replaced by a young character. If in the real world time flows as usual, then Gemma and Tom are not involved in aging. It means they remain young for themselves even though decades pass.

Throughout Vivarium, the characters try to get along with a sense that life is in control, and every step is watched. In Gemma and Tom’s case, it was their little child, who both a monster and the burden in an abstract sense, pressing them. The film tells of the deep philosophy of relationships in society, between people, particularly between children and parents. The plot shows all the bitterness in the fact that we often cannot build close relationships either in the family, with children, with parents. This is not our fault, but the truth dictated by society. Sometimes the result of cold relationships with children is distance and the chronic fatigue of adults.


Who Is in the Cast?

The main roles in the film “Vivarium” are performed by Imogen Poots (“Green Room”, “Black Christmas”) and Jesse Eisenberg (“Social Network”, “Now You See Me”, “The Art of Self-Defense”), who, by the way, agreed to accept the role within a few hours after reading the script. As for me, he perfectly conveys the character.

Vivarium is not a superficial story, but a deep exploration that the actors must carry out. As for Gemma, remember her role in the recent horror film “Black Christmas”, where members of a university group hunt for girls and accuse them of inappropriate behavior and crime. The conveying of horrific and emotional intensity is already familiar to the actress, moreover, she has already worked with Jesse in “The Art of Self-defense”. In my opinion, the actors more than manage to convey the profound sense of the plot. It doesn’t matter that there is no sharp emotional outburst here. That cinematic reality and the world we live with are so similar that the accents of the scenery seem real. After all, we are all involved in a social framework cycle.

Photos: Shutterstock / Photomontage: Martina Advaney

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