‘Vesper’ (2022) Review: Exploring Deep Issues of an Oppressive Reality
Kristina Buožytė and Bruno Samper’s Vesper is a dystopian reality where social hierarchies exist in a dying, apocalyptic world. This quiet sci-fi movie with futuristic designs and elegant surprises shows how world-building looks in this version of Earth. A decaying planet on the verge of death where people have to manipulate and exploit people to survive. Vesper’s social hierarchy and advanced biotechnology exist for all but its capacity are only for the wealthy elites.
Vesper (Raffiella Chapman) is a 13-year-old girl who takes care of her bedridden father, Darius (Richard Brake). As the Earth’s resources are depleting, Vesper uses her skills to develop her biogenetic thumb and escape the dreadful reality. A young girl who fends for herself and dreams of going to the Citadel, the Promised Land –- a closed-off society for the elite. Since Darius cannot physically accompany her, he has transferred his consciousness into a drone that hovers around his daughter. One day, she returns home to find her machine sabotaged by someone and her father’s drone losing its power. Unable to find resources, she turns to her uncle, Jonas (Eddie Marsan), who exploits child labourers for their blood and sells it to the highest bidder. When he sets his sights on the young and intelligent Vesper, he doesn’t realise her full potential.
Vesper describes it as a “sci-fi fairytale.” It’s a world where genetic engineering helps to preserve and create Earth’s resources. In Vesper’s garden, plants of innovative creation live and breathe. Vesper uses these plants to make technology that heals and aids people. Her Secret Garden is sacred to her and her father’s survival, especially her desire to see the Citadel and make more of these biogenetic plants for the betterment of the planet. Her journey gets more complicated when an aircraft from the Citadel crashes near the forest. A young Citadelian, Camellia (Rosy McEwen) is taken to Vesper’s home to heal, while her guardian, Elias (Edmund Dehn), is captured by her brother Jonas for further experiments. With the promise of taking Vesper to the Citadel, Camellia asks her to locate Elias and return to their home.
What’s interesting about the characters and the world-building of Vesper is the social hierarchy. While the Citadel is a self-contained, closed community that provinces comfort and technological advancement far beyond Vesper’s knowledge, it is a system that is elite and yet, failing. Outside the Citadel, poverty and the deprivation of resources is rampant. Human survival is dependent on enslaving faulty humanoid AI’s called Jugs. Humanoids’ are exploited outside the Citadel, but inside the walls of the wealthy, they live comfortably in the world of advanced biotechnology. Jonas and Vesper’s moral convictions separate them. Jonas prefers to exploit and hurt people to survive, whereas Vesper prefers to offer sympathy. Vesper provides a social commentary on the themes of greed and survival to sacrifice Earth’s resources, which eventually has devastating consequences.
Even in a dying world, a woman’s place in society is a potential threat to everyone around them. Vesper and Camellia haven’t figured out their place in the world. While the former’s stubbornness welcomes complicated situations, the latter is not free from the limitations of her home, the Citadel. Jonas underestimates Vesper’s skills. He is unaware of Vesper’s ability to replace Earth’s resources using biogenetic technology to obtain new life forms. Camellia’s constraints lie within the walls of the Citadel. In the beginning, it’s unclear what she is doing inside the rural area, but as the story progresses, it becomes clear that she is running away. At the same time, Elias has restricted some parts of her to herself. These moments are integral to her character journey and self-actualisation. By working together as a team, Vesper and Camellia can find a voice in society to help save the world and themselves.
Vesper is a small movie with many big ideas and themes. It explores issues of the systemic and oppressive world that takes advantage of Earth’s natural resources. The movie teaches that collaborative efforts of emancipation are the way to a better society. It’s a universal approach to life, biogenetic technology, and what the world might be like in the distant (or near) future. Its depiction of a dying world and the citizens exploiting each other to find scraps of living is a harsh depiction of many countries. It’s a fascinating film that discusses the reality and survival of the world through a much deeper lens with otherworldly visuals.