Vivarium And The Suburban Nightmare

Passing the Yonder sign in Vivarium

Vivarium may not be for everyone, but Lorcan Finnegan’s psychological horror movie may be the sleeper of the year you need to see.

(Your new home comes with some spoilers) Lorcan Finnegan’s Vivarium isn’t going to please everyone. Audiences, by and large, like movies that ask questions. Would we still be talking about Christopher Nolan’s Inception if there was no question if Cobb was in a dream world or if he was back in reality? Audiences also like answers. Whether or not we like the answers an audience wants a resolution to what they have just sat two plus hours watching. Vivarium is a movie that doesn’t ask questions nor does it offer any answers.

Vivarium follows Gemma (Imogen Poots), a school teacher, and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) on their hunt for a home. House hunting can be a headache even under the best circumstances and sometimes it can be a nightmare. When they step into the Yonder office the “realtor” convinces Gemma to visit the planned neighbor and all it has to offer. Thus their nightmare begins.

A street in the Yonder development found in Vivarium
Ticky tacky boxes that all look the same.

Once passed the welcoming Yonder sign promising “Quality family homes. Forever” a couple things become very apparent. First, all the houses look the same. The orderly line of houses and the perfectly manicured lawns scream “suburban neighborhood.” The identical houses bring to mind Malvina Reynolds “Little Boxes”, which some people may be familiar with as the opening song to the Showtime series “Weeds,” because all the houses look the same.

Second, Gemma and Tom can never leave. At first the identical houses and streets confuse the couple. After several attempts to leave Yonder Tom and Gemma wind up where they started; right in front of the same house they had just left. Now out of gas and lost Tom and Gemma are trapped in the planned neighborhood with no way out.

Tom and Gemma find a new baby in front of their house

For a moment Gemma and Tom think they can still escape their new home. They set the house on fire hoping it would attract someone’s attention. Alas, when they wake up the house is untouched. The only signs the house was ever on fire is the lingering smoke in the air and their smoke stained faces. Left outside the house is a box and inside the box is a baby. On the flap of the box is a message telling them if they raise the child they can be released. It’s telling that neither Tom or Gemma make a point to read or to even acknowledge the message.

Tom and Gemma don’t ask who has trapped them or why they were chosen. They don’t ask why the baby grows into an adult in the matter of weeks. It’s a situation they let happen to them without question. All they do is react to new situations.

measuring the child in Vivarium

Only Tom actively searches for a way out. His way out is to dig a hole in the front yard. It’s a hole that keeps getting deeper with no end in sight. Tom has dug himself into a hole he can’t get out of. While Tom digs Gemma clings to the notion the child left in their care is real. Although she never admits to the child that she’s his mother Gemma still goes through the motions of motherhood. It’s not until it’s too late that Gemma takes action of her own.

That is the crux of Vivarium. Suburbia is a nightmare and once you’re there it’s hard to get out. We’re put into boxes, both figuratively and literally, because that’s what we’ve been told all of our lives. From the moment we’re out of the womb we’re being told to get a job, buy a house, and raise a family. We never question why things are the way they are. We just accept things. Then we repeat the same thing to our children. It’s a never ending cycle.

Domestic bliss in Vivarium

Perhaps that’s why there are no questions asked in Vivarium. There are no questions because we never ask the important questions. Why does happiness always equate to a house, a manicured lawn and a family with 2.5 kids? How can we break the cycle if questions are never asked? Without the questions there are no answers. The only answer from Vivarium is the door to the Yonder office is always open because there’s always people seeking the “happy life.”