To acquire wisdom, one must observe

‘Landscape with Invisible Hand’ is a smart and surprisingly serious satire

“Landscape with Invisible Hand” is a terrible movie title. It fits within the context of the movie, reminiscent of the title of a fine art piece, but it is overly pretentious and simply impossible to remember. The actual movie, “Landscape with Invisible Hand,” does not share those issues. An absurd, cynical, political satire told through a slice of life look at Earth post-alien invasion– this movie is not only entertaining and full of heart, but it finds meaning in its storyline without preaching. 

The way this film was advertised was a major misstep. Prior to watching “Landscape with Invisible Hand,” all signs point to a “Don’t Look Up” style dark political comedy. This movie is not a comedy. It is full of silliness, but it almost never builds to anything comedic. It’s like “Robocop.” There is so much ridiculousness, but it’s all embedded in somber cynicism that undercuts any jokes. And the movie is not hurt by taking itself seriously, audiences should just be aware that this satire about silly looking aliens may not be what you expect. 

The politics commented on within this movie are far-reaching, but not groundbreaking. The central focus is on the dangers of capitalism and how it intersects with race, gender and art, but it also looks at wealth disparity, social media and authoritarianism. All of these ideas are examined through the lens of and relationship between formerly middle class Americans, who now struggle to pay for food, and voyeuristic aliens who love Earth culture and are working hard to capture its essence while destroying its existence. 

The commentary worked–for me. It will not be as enjoyable or interesting for those who ideologically disagree with the film or who just do not care for political commentary delivered through not so subtle allegory. I believed the movie had a thoughtful and surprisingly grounded delivery of its political messaging. It never took away from the story and it never played second fiddle to it. 

A lot of things happen throughout this movie. My description will make it sound muddled or overly ambitious, but it wasn’t. The movie starts as a love story and conversation about wealth disparity, then quickly transitions into a legal dispute, to a tenant dispute, to a moral dilemma over the monetization and censorship of art. None of these storylines come out of nowhere nor disappear. They all exist in tandem, with the movie giving more dramatization to the new tensions as they occur. And none of these story beats really have an ending. This is how the movie avoided doing too much, the slice of life format allows for plots to happen on top of each other and end unresolved. Not unsatisfyingly, but without a solution.

The perpetually layered plot prevented the movie, which is very dialogically and conceptually driven, from ever becoming boring and even more so from becoming predictable. From the beginning of the movie to end, it was always unclear what was going to happen next. As my roommate put it, you can never tell how much time is left in the movie.

The ending is imperfect. Since the story is not wrapped up neatly, there is a clear attempt to end, somewhat abruptly, as would be appropriate. Where “Landscape with Invisible Hand” goes wrong is it draws out this abrupt ending. A dramatic, frightening, important scene cuts to black, and instead of credits rolling, we get a meandering hugging scene that neither completes character arcs nor is particularly emotional. After never knowing what was going to happen next, you know exactly what is going to happen next and are just waiting for it to end. Not exactly going out on a high.

What makes this movie stand out most of all, why more people should give it a try, is that the way this movie balances light and dark makes a difficult task seem very easy. A gaggle of absurd coffee table shaped aliens who talk with their hands (literally) and encourage people to shave off their eyebrows are successfully drawn as horrific authoritarians. The gray areas of heavy, realistic topics are explored and interwoven with goofy sci-fi schlock but at no point does “Landscape with Invisible Hand” feel uneven.

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