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Aloners: A Stunning Rumination on Isolation

Film Movement

For some people, there’s nothing more daunting than the phone lighting up with “MOM” calling. For Jina (Gong Seung-yeon) in Aloners, it means a ghost is calling. Her mother passed away less than a month ago, and Jina hasn’t had a chance to fully grieve the loss. She works long, lonely hours at a credit card call center, then goes home to her empty apartment where the television is perpetually on, giving the illusion she isn’t spending all of her time in isolation. But she is. Jina exists in a world with headphones on, her eyes locked to her phone, and cut off from the world. Her carefully constructed way of life is thrown into disarray when she notices a foul, rotting smell coming from a neighbor’s apartment.

As one could guess from the name, there’s a stark sense of solitude that emanates from Aloners. It’s reminiscent of those beginning weeks of quarantine in 2020, when everyone used televisions and phones to avoid feeling secluded. Even though there are no restrictions in Aloners, there’s the inherent barrier of Jina’s introverted nature. She’s alone, but the audience doesn’t get the sense that she’s being crushed under the weight of her way of life. Instead she’s stagnant, which can be more dangerous than an outward expression of loneliness. When someone’s stagnant, something deeply fundamental has to occur to shift their perspective. Something has to wake them from their stupor and force them to reconsider how they’re choosing to interact with the world around them. For Jina, it’s a combination of the death of her neighbor and the arrival of an extroverted new girl at work (Jung Da-eun).

Jina and Sujin at the call center
Photo: courtesy Film Movement.

Aloners masterfully captures the monotony of life of someone who is adrift. Jina has fooled herself into believing that the life she’s living is good. And maybe that’s true. She has a job, a roof over her head, and food on the table. She’s doing okay, but that’s all. Jina has essentially built a box for herself. She’ll never experience life’s lows, but, as a trade-off, she’ll never experience the highs either. It’s not just Jina, but her father (Park Jeong-hak), too. He’s the sole inheritor of his wife’s estate and putters around the house desperately searching for some kind of purpose.

That’s the main theme at play in Aloners: purpose. We’re existing in a time where the question and idea of purpose are far beyond muddled. For our parents’ generation, a life’s purpose felt like a guarantee of sorts. College, big house, white picket fence, dog, kids, the whole nine yards. Now, more and more Millennials are opting out of kids entirely, choosing pets instead, and are forced to live with roommates or family for extended periods of time because of sky-high housing costs. Millennials were sold a dream that vanished long ago. Now they’re searching for something, anything, to make sense of their lives. What is the purpose of one life? How do you find that purpose when people are working longer, more grueling hours to merely scrape by?

Jina and her new neighbor
Photo: courtesy Film Movement.

At Jina’s job at the call center, there’s a man who calls regularly to ask if his credit card would work should he be able to go back in time to 2002. He’s created a time machine and chosen the destination: the Korea Japan World Cup. He wants to go back to the cheering, the festivities, the sense of unity he felt. In the notes on his account, it says that he is “mentally ill.” Since he’s just a voice on a phone, we never get more information about the extent of his mental illness, but that’s not his purpose here. His calls are to reinforce to the audience that time travel is real, although not in the sense that there’s a Delorean that can take you back in time to meet your parents as teenagers. No, time travel is something that’s experienced every single day through pictures, smells, memories, daydreaming, places, clothes, possessions. Eternity exists in many ways.

Sometimes, routine feels nice. It’s reassuring to experience the same things at the same time on a regular basis. It’s a frictionless way of moving through the world and it’s easy, but not fulfilling. Aloners takes Jina’s perfect world and shatters it. The film forces her to feel the weight of the human condition. The pain, the joy, the sadness, the depths of her emotions. It’s not easy to choose to be present for life, but it is essential to being alive.

Written by Tina Kakadelis

News Editor for Film Obsessive. Movie and pop culture writer. Seen a lot of movies, got a lot of opinions. Let's get Carey Mulligan her Oscar.

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