I Am Easy to Find - Film Review
A revelation in the visual album trend.
This is a review of the short film I Am Easy to Find, inspired by The National album of the same name.
Mike Mills’ new short film created for The National’s eighth album is something of a small masterpiece. Like his last two features, the short (also titled I Am Easy to Find) is an experiment in chronicling life, in this instance through collected moments of a woman’s life, each stage in life portrayed by the same actress. As Mills explains in his director’s commentary, lead actress Alicia Vikander fully sends herself into life as a 10, 20, and 60 year old woman with ease. It’s a beautiful film, soundtracked by one of the more adventurous (and consistent) bands to survive the indie-rock boom.
Whenever high-profile directors become attached to music videos (or anything other than a feature film), it’s easy to turn a blind eye; the work is written off as a minor effort, a stop-gap between bigger and better projects; it’s happening with David Fincher and Mindhunter. I Am Easy to Find is no minor effort. Shot over five days in an abandoned facility for mentally unwell children, the film takes bits of a person’s life and analyzes the repetition. For example, events like “Financial crisis” occur multiple times in the protagonist’s life, displayed through wordless scenes and casually direct subtitles. Things like “A first friend” and “She wonders how she became this person” are given equal scope in her life: just a few seconds.
Mills has said in interviews that he listens to the National when writing. Anyone who’s written creatively understands the need for a proper headspace, the right mood to create characters that are dark, joyful, complex, whatever they need to be; I Am Easy to Find draws heavily from the sense of place 20th Century Women established through trees, pastimes, and people. Men appear frequently in the protagonist’s life, and all share some relationship with water. Dialogue is infrequent, but its presence is crucial to the subtle world-building that occurs mostly through imagery. Vikander argues with her mother as a six year old, with swinging hands and exaggerated facial movements, as the music and camera obscure just enough to allow empathy. There isn’t a real story, but like life, the film is a collection of moments big and small, with no judgement as to what matters most.
Shot in black and white, I Am Easy to Find doesn’t spend time acquainting the viewer with itself. It may take a few moments, but soon the pattern of moments and color slides that break up the momentum take shape into whatever you want them to. There isn’t a defined formula; red slides don’t always symbolize death, and yellow doesn’t always mean insanity. Instead the colors serve as emotional pin-boards, canvases to place emotion beyond the protagonist’s experiences.
While the National add new voices to their music, primarily female ones, Mills’ film paints the life of a woman through seconds, stacking until they topple in moments that are entirely subjective. The birth of a first child, the loss of a husband, a new friend at 60; only those who have lived to know these moments will understand them all, but I Am Easy to Find pulls off the trick of engagement with a lead actress who’s most memorable role has been as a robot a man falls in love with. Vikander draws empathy out, the music props it up, and Mills’ directing shapes it. I Am Easy to Find is a visual album that’s essential to the music, despite not including every song or basing a story around the lyrics. Somehow it all comes together, and though it primarily reflects Mills’ continued brilliance as a writer/director, the film makes plenty of room for others to succeed, at once elevating the National’s music and placing a well-deserved spotlight on Vikander’s minimalist acting.