Director James Newitt utilises the tools of cinema in some of the most unique and fascinating ways in his feature debut I Go Further Under. Loosely inspired by the life of Jane Cooper, a teen who lived for a year on the remote and uninhabitable De Witt Island, the last land point at the edge of Tasmania before the precipice of the Southern Ocean crafts a void between Australia and Antarctica, this story is an exploration into the desire for isolation from the world. Yet, through visual ingenuity, Newitt reminds us that no matter how far we wish to remove ourselves from the world, the world will always seek us out and ensure we’re never truly isolated.
Working as the Jane Cooper-surrogate is actress Emily Milledge, delivering a performance that reacts to the harshness of the environment with a growing realisation that the solitude and quiet that she sought will eternally be out of reach. This journey into a world of isolation is part of her desire to realise what it means to become nothing, to peer into an absolute void of quiet and to become one with the earth. But, as she becomes more isolated on an island that openly rejects any chance of easy survival, her desire for solitude is tested, with her mind playing tricks on her – because she cannot make it to the other side of the island, is she even on an island? Or, is it actually part of the mainland and she is in fact closer to the civilisation that she so desperately sought to escape?
And yet, when it’s not her mind playing tricks on her, it’s the frustration of the many from around the world writing to her, seeking to be a companion for her in her solitude. The only other human she maintains contact with, a nameless sailor (Chas Blundell), brings her food, and a wealth of communication from the outside world. James Newitt presents these one sided, obsessively directed monologues to this isolated soul, through obtrusive digital presentations. They intrude and obstruct the natural order of the world of De Witt Island, creating an unwelcome presence for Milledge’s nameless teen. The reassurance that this disembodied soul presented as words on paper wants the same thing that she does – to be comfortably alone – works against their promise of companionship. If she had wanted companionship, then the world provides a wealth of opportunities for this, but, she doesn’t.
The way that Newitt presents this intrusion into her life comes across a lot like a prisoner receiving fan mail. The notion that simply because someone is isolated somewhere, they then turn into a vessel for the world’s problems, turning into an outlet that exists to solely receive an outpouring of emotion, reinforces the arrogance of mankind. The belief that if someone seeks solitude and desires loneliness, that they are a broken soul that needs companionship. This is made explicitly clear via letters from men who expound to a complete stranger about how they have enough money for them both to live on, and that they have a boat and a car, and that there is a place for this stranger in their life, as if their mere ownership of things is reason enough for the two of them to live together. Newitt doesn’t need to demonise these people via criticising their words, or to provide further context about where their words are coming from, as it’s clear that the words speak for themselves.
I Go Further Under is a reminder for those who are comfortably alone that it’s ok to live that way. Yes, Milledge’s character may have troubles of her own to deal with, but Newitt never vilifies her for wanting to be alone, and most importantly, never dictates why she is there. Through the powerful imagery that varies from raging, furious waves in a torturous ocean, to the appearance of Milledge submerging herself in those same waters when they appear to be at a rare moment of peace, we’re able to glean enough about her life. Sure, maybe she’s underprepared for living in such a harsh environment, but this isn’t a story about surviving in a harsh landscape – for that kind of film, there is a wealth of them out there to seek out. Instead, this is a film about someone who wants to be alone and simply can’t find the radio frequency that helps her tune out the unceasing drone of humanity.
I Go Further Under is a unique film, working in experimental film elements alongside a powerfully natural performance that is a rarity. In the moment, it’s fascinating and engaging, but it’s long after you’ve left the film that the complexities of its themes wash over you. It’s so rare to see the extremities of introversion displayed on screen, that I Go Further Under becomes a welcome and refreshing, and most importantly, respectfully careful exploration of a perfectly normal way of life.
Director: James Newitt
Cast: Emily Milledge, Chas Blundell
Writer: James Newitt
I Go Further Under screens at Perth’s Revelation Film Festival on the following dates: