Routine: a film far less boring than its subject matter

Valeria Dakhovich Molchanova, “Routine” (2017)

Astonishingly I found this film about an every-person character’s daily routine over a number of days far less boring than he does. The character wakes up at 6am as he normally does to get ready for work, travel into the city by train and arrive at his desk and PC. On this particular day though, a tiny black blob (representing his depression) appears on his shoulder. We see the fellow go through his work day glued to his desk, his eyes seemingly transfixed by what passes over the PC screen, maybe spending his free time out on the balcony smoking a cigarette, and then go home with his black-blob companion where he spends his evening watching his TV and then going to bed. He repeats the same routine the next day and the next … but with each succeeding day, the black blob grows bigger, more menacing and controlling, and life around the unnamed man literally becomes more grey and dead, the colour draining out of it … until a sudden and unexpected change in the weather stops the man and his antagonist depression in the street, the two facing each other, and viewers transfixed at the sight, wondering who will prevail …

In the space of a few minutes with absolutely no dialogue, the only soundtrack being the urban environment ambience, animator Molchanova shows in a very straightforward and effective way what living a monotonous, alienated and depressing life in a typical Western capitalist society, working for a soulless corporation, is like for millions of people around the world. Monotony and depression reinforce the rut in which many people are forced to live in and are helpless to leave, and erode people’s imaginations and reduce their perceptions of the world until they become the walking dead. The man appears to have no social relationships and seems to lead a very isolated life. For a moment in the film though, the man is given an opportunity to break out of his routine … but can he overcome the black monster looming over his shoulder and pushing him backwards?

While some viewers may be tempted to see the character and his surroundings as Japanese – he does have black hair after all, though the film’s colour palette progressively fades to black, white and grey – the animation is deliberately vague and cartoon-like visually to drive home the point that the city could be any Western city on Earth and the character could be one of us. The film’s conclusion is deliberately left unresolved, with the man appearing at least a little defiant as he confronts one of his demons for the first time.

Given that its subject matter and themes revolve around the monotony of modern life and the despair and lack of hope this induces in far too many people, the film is actually not as boring as it might have looked originally on paper, in part because as the character’s depression increases, the narrative starts to speed up, the days going faster, and this increases the tension as viewers come to realise that the character must eventually confront his depression.