REVIEW: Plastic Bag [2009]

“My cold, her warmth”

It is impossible to watch Ramin Bahrani’s film Plastic Bag without thinking about the scene in American Beauty of Wes Bentley videotaping a lone bag as it flew through the air and swirled with the wind. That moment of beauty could be seen as every human being’s goal—to be absolutely free of burden and earthly concerns; to just move and journey unencumbered. What Bahrani does in his short film, however, is to add a narrative to the life of that bag, giving him his birth into the world as well as his lifelong quest to once more feel appreciated and useful. The story itself actually reminded me of AI: Artificial Intelligence and its robotic boy searching for meaning in his life, desperate to go back to the only place he ever knew purpose—home.

This is existentialism at its finest, showing the viewer what life truly means. Are we created and set along a path that has been laid before us or do we just exist to live as we see fit? Unlike the life expectancy of humans, the plastic bag is immortal and destined to roam the earth forever, but what is he to do when life appears to have ended and all that remains are animals just as free as him? Does what could be centuries underneath decaying and decomposing garbage in a landfill, finally disappearing to reveal him and let him leave, change his makeup? Can something that has existed to serve his maker, the woman at the supermarket who took him home to use as a friend—even one time touching her skin with his as a makeshift ice-pack—ever figure out how to live for himself? Do we create our own lives or does our maker do it for us?

If we can learn anything from this bag, I hope it is that life does not go on forever; at some point we need to wake-up and just live freely, to journey and explore. The plastic bag may continue on his search for his owner for years and years, but by doing so he is able to see the world. Becoming trapped in high grass or high trees is just a small hitch in an otherwise infinite amount of time—he knows he will always break free and continue to travel. And while being with someone is a special connection beyond compare, if you haven’t found a way to live with yourself nothing else will matter. Staying with his maker is only happiness on the surface as he becomes her complicit slave; finding a love in a fellow wandering bag is powerful but finite as the wind eventually blows them apart, (read into it as divorce, death, break-up, etc); and finding his brethren, a community of plastic in the Pacific Ocean, can only fulfill his desires so long until that yearning for freedom rises once more.

The film itself is gorgeous in its visuals, lending that ”Planet Earth” documentary style to a work of fiction. Scenes are shot so that the bag is in close-up much of the duration, forcing everything else to be seen from his point of view. Humans are obscured and abstracted, visitors—whether fish, other bags, foliage, and more—are in your face and appreciated as the monsters and beasts he believes them to be. This effect of being the voyeur peaking into the life of this bag makes it perfect for narration through the interior thinking of the subject. Portrayed by none other than German directing great Werner Herzog, the accented deep voice remains emotionless as he describes what is happening at each stage of his long life. He may be experiencing feelings and longings for what he has known in the past, but he is still an inanimate object when all is said and done. He knows the concept of emotion if not the ability to project it. Even so, though, with a final line as profound as the one given here, you can’t help but place your own life into the trajectory of this bag and see where you’ve gone wrong, learning that perhaps it is time start over again, put all your stresses behind you, and just be.

Plastic Bag 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½


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