I guess some of you out in reader-land were frustrated by the sheer narrative volume of Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life. If there was too much plot to follow in that meditation on life and death, you'll be happy to learn that The Sound of Insects has virtually no plot at all. It's an art film with a capital 'A,' a meditation on life and death that places the emphasis firmly on meditation. You probably know by now, then, if this is your cup of tea, but even for those used to sipping the old pekoe, The Sound of Insects will challenge you in unique ways.
Based on a true story and adapted from the Japanese novella 'Miira Ni Naru Made,' ('Until I Am a Mummy') by Shimada Masahiko, Insects, in its way, details the story of a man determined to starve himself to death. In a remote forested wetland, a hunter discovers a plastic shelter containing the mummified remains of a 40-year-old man. Next to the corpse is a notebook containing the man's day-to-day thoughts as he takes his slow journey into the beyond. A voice, presumably meant to be that of the suicidal man, narrates these notes, from the start of his nihilistic adventure to as close to the end as possible. Images of the forest, near-featureless shots from within the plastic shelter, and putative impressionistic memories of the man's time in the city flow by at a majestically measured pace.
Inasmuch as the man's thoughts and meditations are sparing and doled out glacially, the intended effect of the film is to put the viewer in a similar meditative state. Despite sporting a harsh Digital Video appearance, the movie works almost flawlessly. (You might want to watch it while sitting up straight, in hopes of staving off an early slumber.) Personally, I'm not sure I wanted to get into such a state, and I'm not sure we're even treated to any answers from the man who chose to get into a staring contest with death, but I nonetheless feel I've achieved a bit of Zen-like detachment.
Gorgeous, simple and evocative photography mirrors the man's decline; he starts his suicide in early August and persists over 60 days - meaning the environment undergoes a similar change. Hypnotic, disorienting music likewise mimics what it must feel like as one's body begins to eat itself, and one's mind lets go of its moorings. The man's thoughts are as focused on the banal (such as when he has his last bowel movement) as they are focused on the profound, and it's hard to tell if he arrives at a place of peace, it's completely unknown as to why he wants to die, or why he chooses such an intensive method of suicide. Thoughts of holy men fasting for that magical 40 days turn out to be dead-end reasoning; the only surety is this - by reducing his choices to none, our eventual mummy makes manifest the truth that our ultimate end is death. In this profound and profoundly empty film (I mean that in a good way) we might learn that it may be impossible to truly understand that fact, no matter how hard we try.