Gone (Poissa) (2019)

Gone (Poissa) opens with the interior of a corridor in a house at night (a child’s toy dog sitting in the foreground), followed by a rapidly accelerating montage of exteriors – all wide open landscapes in different seasons and geographical locations around the globe. This prologue involves a strong element of mystification, as there is, at least for now, no clear connecting thread between these disparate shots. Two points, however, are obvious: the first is the contrast between the intimate, domestic setting of the initial shot, and the outdoorsy, exotic nature of all those that follow; and the second is the emptiness of the frames, unifying all these otherwise diverse spaces with a conspicuous lack of any visible human presence. These themes – the clash between home and abroad, and the legacy of absence – will come to dominate Arttu Haglund’s strange merger of domestic tale and travelogue, whose very title advertises the absenteeism of its lead character.

When we first meet Matti (Panu Tuomikko), he is literally restless, awake in the arms of his sleeping wife Teija (Eeva Putro) – and as he starts to get out of bed, she clings onto him tightly, insisting that his movements will wake their six-year-old daughter Emma (Julia Hemmilä). This is Matti in a nutshell – a man stuck in a midlife crisis, dissatisfied with the domestic life that ties him down, and always feeling that his wife and daughter are holding him back in their suffocating embrace, much as his now late mother had done for years while he nursed her through prolonged, terminal illness. Sullen, resentful and incommunicative, Matti longs, as he mutters to Teija, “to breathe” – and something paranormal is about to occur that will amplify Matti’s wanderlust into a tangible force.

One day Matti, still fuming that Emma has (significantly) left a pile of toys blocking his egress from the driveway, heads along the road with her in the car, when he suddenly and without warning, vanishes from the driving seat – reappearing at a lake several miles away. This is the first of a long series of arbitrary teleportations which take Matti away  from his home, but always end in his return. Crucially here, though, there is as much emphasis on Emma, left behind and alone in a moving car with no driver at the wheel, as on Matti’s irrational escapism. From the outset it is made explicit that Matti’s absence has a real and destructive impact on his loved ones, even if he cannot see it. 

At first confused, Matti will fast find solace in these transglobal excursions to random locations, as he at last gets to spend time on solo sojourns away from the claustrophobia of his home life. Yet as his spatial jumps increase in frequency, and his stays away from home lengthen, frictions already present in his family life intensify, and the downsides of his nomadic itinerary become apparent – even as Emma’s formative years are adversely influenced by a father who is never around to return her affection, gradually propelling her life too towards similar discontent and lovelessness.

Even if Matti has no control over his peculiar condition or where it takes him, it nonetheless reflects an underlying impulse, obviously there even before his physical leaps through space kick in, towards a sort of narcissistic mobility and disconnection from others. “I’ll always find my way back home,” Matti promises Teija near the beginning, and his homing instinct does remain, even if it eventually renders him a kind of ghost occasionally haunting the corridors of a house where he is no longer welcome. Superficially one might imagine that Gone bears comparison to the young-adult teleportation sci fi Jumper (2008), but where Liman’s film was an effects-heavy adventure whose adolescent (super)hero could jump at will, the magic of editing is the only special effect in Gone, seamlessly linking together locations from 30 different countries (on a three-year production shoot), while Matti, far from being a hero, is a damaged person whose toxic – and irrepressible – aversion to settling and nest-building negatively affects both his family and himself. 

Perhaps closer analogues would be Sean Penn’s Into The Wild (2007), Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (2008), James Gray’s The Lost City of Z (2016), Damien Chazelle’s First Man (2018), James Marsh’s The Mercy (2018) and Alice Winocour’s Proxima (2109) – all films about compulsive long-distance travellers and the deleterious repercussions of their absence on the home front. It is ironic, then, that the fantasy elements in Haglund’s film, scripted by Avi Heikkinen, should serve not so much to distance these themes as to bring them right home where they hit hardest, in what is ultimately a very unusual drama of divorce and the lasting trauma that it brings.

© Anton Bitel