Two Years at Sea, a film by Ben Rivers

Rhythm Circus magazine

Jake, the protagonist and sole subject of this character study, walks along a rural track over Scottish highlands carrying some plastic water containers, a bag and wood. Perhaps he's going to get some fresh stream water. Maybe he found them when out on a scavenger's walk and has imagined some future use for them back at his smallholding.

His smallholding forms the backdrop to most of the activities observed in this black and white film; a psychological portrait of both Jake and the notion of reclusiveness, solitude and the self. If the role of a film-maker is to take the viewer into some new world, to make them see and feel as though taken into the projected image, then Ben Rivers achieves this completely. There is little attempt here to obey the traditional rules of narrative film making - there is no dialogue, scene and shot duration vary greatly, we meet no other characters (except his cat, who has more reaction to the camera than his owner). But, largely because of these reasons Rivers has made a profoundly intimate work in which we, the viewers, almost feel as if just items secreted amongst his cluttered house, observing and witnessing every minutiae of his way of being.

What we also see is the proximity of that reclusiveness to that of 'normality' and the construct of a modern existence. Even in the remoteness of his Highlands' house we are never far from the modern developed world. As Jake passes through the vast forest surrounding his home it's noticeable how managed and developed this rural landscape is - the most distant of footpaths still seem well trod, the trees form a patchwork of even levels of managed growth and cutting. Somehow, despite man's and society's influence affecting everything surrounding, Jake has managed to carve out his own little private oasis of solitude where he answers to no-one except himself, devoting all his time and energies solely to his personal strange projects and tasks. At one point we witness the winching of a caravan to the top of a tree to create a surreal and poetic, if somewhat dangerous, penthouse, into which Jake then enters and takes a nap.

We see a lot of naps being taken. Jake's pace and cycles are his own and he seems most free and settled when finding a corner, pulling over a sheet and closing his eyes to enter that most reclusive place of all. These periods of watching him prepare to and then fall asleep, or the gradual awakening and unfolding from his depths, are the most intimate and personal of the film. But, the piece is more than a study of just one man, Rivers has constructed a rendering of that quest to exist as oneself, at one's own pace and will, and in a world which is becoming increasingly controlling, structured and cultivated.

The title, Two Years At Sea, refers to a period of Jake's earlier life in which he worked at sea saving the money to enable him to spend the rest of the days in his chosen existence. When Jake reached the end of that hill top path, carrying those assorted objects, he began to strap them together and form a crude raft. Laying upon it, and pushing himself off into a small lake, he floated. Rivers' camera witnesses this with a fixed single shot for something like ten minutes - slowly we see this square craft and passenger drifting from left to right of the screen. Weightless, content, free of agency and untethered seems to be Jake's most successful attempt at searching for his halcyon place.