Aloners: TIFF ’21 Capsule Review

Aloners image Jina (Gong Seung-Yeon) and her father sit on opposite ends of a sofa.

Aloners, written and directed by Hong Sung-eun, played at Toronto International Film Festival this year, and it captures the essence of isolation. Loneliness was widespread in the time of COVID, but it also existed before our pandemic solitude. Jina (Gong Seung-Yeon) lives an isolated life but begins to reevaluate when her neighbor dies. Despite the sadness in Aloners, there’s a hopeful note that gently plays as gradual change ripples outward, like a pebble thrown in still waters. 

A Lonely Familiar Path

Aloners image of Jina taking a call at work while trainee Sujin watches holding two drinks in her hands.
Courtesy of TIFF

Jina is not dissimilar to any 20-something working woman. When outside, she ignores the world around her. She uses her phones and headphones to separate her and the world, just like most people. Jina lives alone and displays another layer of armor and protection through her withdrawn, arctic exterior. She does not smile. Or laugh. Her neighbor tries to chat with her a few times when he’s in the hall to smoke. Although she can give monosyllabic replies, her combined facial expression and continuous movement make it apparent she is not interested in conversation. 

Jina’s desire to keep the world separate extends to her even keeping her curtains closed in her room. Her connection to people is through the safe distance of devices. But her need to leave her television on all night demonstrates that though this is a choice, Jina is not comfortable or happy with the separation. Aloners looks at the effects of Jina’s self-imposed isolation. It shows how small connections can have an impact in a gradual, moving way as Jina opens up to those around her.

Direction & Music Build The Film

Aloners image of Jina (Gong Seung-Yeon) sitting on the floor looking at a piece of paper on a table.
Courtesy of TIFF

Gong Seung-Yeon does a masterful job. When she interacts with others against her will, her awkwardness and discomfort emanate from each scene. The direction shows distance, but when that distance shortens, we see Jina’s stiffness with interactions. The music, used sparingly throughout the film,  when evokes a yearning when played. It’s emotional, yet the manufactured sounds complement the destructive nature of capitalistic pursuit in an industrial and postindustrial society. The music reminds me of Take Care of My Cat OST; the compositions are haunting and resonate deeper. 

Aloners surveys loneliness and its various reasons with a quiet stirring, and it is one of the best films I’ve seen that explore the subject. Aloners does not preach about how harmful the capitalist grind can be but allows audiences to draw their own conclusions. Whether forced to be alone, or scared of ‘goodbyes’ so we avoid ‘hellos’, there are individual and collective reasons that we all need to take a deeper look at.

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