by Rachel Willis
Writer/director Hong Sung-eun offers a contemplative portrait of solitude and loneliness in her film, Aloners.
Jina (Gong Seung-yeon) wakes up in the morning, goes to work, comes home, has dinner and goes to bed. This is her life on repeat. She eats at the same restaurant each lunch break. Her interactions with other people revolve around chit-chat with her supervisor on smoke breaks, the occasional exchange with a neighbor, and countless callers in the call center where she works.
Otherwise, Jina’s constant companion is a screen. Earbuds in, she walks, rides the bus, eats, and moves through her day connected to a screen. She even sleeps with the TV on.
Several things happen to rattle Jina’s solitary existence. She’s tasked with training a new employee in hopes of keeping the turnover rate down at her job; her father gets in touch with her regarding a lawyer’s visit; and a neighbor in her apartment building dies.
It’s Jina’s father (Park Jeong-hak) who tries hardest to connect, though her new colleague Sujin (Jeong Da-eun) also attempts to engage her. Rather than take her father’s calls, she watches him through a home video camera set up in his living room. When her colleague brings her coffee, she wordlessly accepts.
This is a slow film, but a certain sadness and apathy hangs over Jina. Gong is phenomenal at displaying the anxiety that comes with human interaction, and her expressionless face carries more weight than any dialogue. It’s hard to say what, if anything, Jing feels.
And while there isn’t much action, the film is never boring. The character study is an affecting examination on how being alone can change a person. Was Jing always like this or has she learned to shut down as a result of her isolation? Can she truly be happy on her own so much of her life?
The film takes place before the pandemic, for a post-pandemic audience Aloners is a slow, striking film that resonates deeply.