6 Mar 2022
Born from the Covid-19 pandemic, Lonesome takes the isolation felt by tens of millions of people around the globe, something that had not been there previously, and transposes it to the LGBTQ+ community, particularly that of Malaysia. Film-maker Justice Khor believes that this new feeling experienced by large sections of the population is representative of the 'queer existential invisibility' that those in the LGBTQ+ community have already suffered for decades, if not centuries. With this in mind, Khor asked people to contribute their own stories and experiences of living with this isolation, segregation and oppression by calling up a phone number and leaving their own (very) personal messages.
As you might imagine, a lot of the details related within these messages are disturbing, unsettling and at times harrowing, and so the film opens with trigger warning that it contains descriptions of 'homophobia and heterosexism, transphobia and trans-misogyny, mental illness and self-harm, cyberharrassment and school bullying'. The messages are indeed not easy listening, but equally are extremely important in allowing people to share their thoughts and experiences to build a true picture of their treatment by the rest of society. Khor's unique approach permits an expression through anonymity which might otherwise never have been allowed to come to the fore, and for this opportunity and gift of (relative) freedom, he should be highly commended.
Through seventeen minutes several speakers tell their stories with a degree of resignation and matter-of-factness. Their words are transposed onto the screen using subtitles and are overlaid on top of differing lonely scenes caught by director of photography, Chew Boon Wai. Actual human beings figure very sparsely within the visuals, with Khor instead opting for wide establishing shots of city-scapes and other images of isolation such as empty corridors and untouched personal belongings.
There is a question though, which hangs over the production of this documentary, as to whether film was in fact the correct medium for telling these stories. We know that all of the contributors called up and left their messages anonymously, which means we also know that any images on screen do not relate directly to any of the speakers that we hear. Despite Khor's best efforts some of the images don't match up to the words on screen and in essence all the audience is doing is reading anonymous testimony while non-specific visuals are relayed underneath.
In a world where media is saturated by variety and choice might it have been better to use these testimonies as a launch pad for interview and discussion on a podcast? Would it have been more useful, and fair, to collect as many of these stories as possible and portray them at length through written publication? When the viewer is basically reading these accounts for themselves on screen anyway and the contributors' experiences are being truncated to fit a short film format; when the visuals don't necessarily relate to the individuals involved; are their stories really being delivered the justice they deserve?