Alvin’s Harmonious World of Opposites: Interior revelations

Keva York

For 18 months, Alvin Ng has sequestered himself in his studio apartment stuffed with panda bear paraphernalia. Much like his favourite animal, he’s a loner with doleful eyes. At least one of his friends is concerned, pushing Alvin to leave the house in a stilted Skype conversation. Defensive, Alvin retorts, “I’ve just started meditating.” It’s a strange response — his friend wants him to go out, not further in. But in Alvin’s Harmonious World of Opposites, the latter just might lead to the former. The debut feature from Sydney independent filmmaker Platon Theodoris — here, writing and directing — is a precisely executed character study with a comic and darkly fantastical bent. Shot on location between Sydney, Kalgoorlie and Jakarta, but essentially set in Alvin’s apartment, the film is every bit as curious as its protagonist.

Sydney performer and artist Teik Kim Pok plays Alvin, who spends his evenings scouring eBay for 1970s bakeware, drinks tea out of his commemorative Princess Di and Prince Charles mug, and goes to sleep in a bunk bed made up with panda printed sheets. He owns enough collectible spoons to max out one of those wooden display racks shaped like Australia. They say that a person’s home is a reflection of their personality, and this is perhaps especially true in the case of cinema; between all the panda plush toys and the retro knick-knacks, Alvin’s décor suggests that he is equal parts overgrown schoolboy and retiree. And his apartment is more than a quirky backdrop — it’s his whole world.

Well, not quite. Although Alvin hasn’t left his apartment in 18 months, he has found ways to access spaces that exist beyond its four walls. A hole in the floor, for instance, becomes a portal into the bedroom of the young woman who lives downstairs, Alvin nursing his crush on her in secret. Meanwhile, the internet enables him to talk to friends and work as a Japanese translator from the comfort and safety of his own home — but Alvin interacts with others only on highly idiosyncratic terms, carefully controlling the flow of the outside world into his own. When Skyping his client, he dons a button-up shirt and tie and uses a retractable white backdrop to simulate an office environment. The pair deliberate over the nuances of particular words with great earnestness, his client unaware that, just outside the webcam’s scope, Alvin is sitting on a big green exercise ball surrounded by panda plush toys.

Alvin can’t hide behind these elaborate mechanisms forever, though — something’s gotta give. When the sanctity of his world does come under attack, it’s on two fronts. First off, his foul-mouthed and vitriolic neighbour Virginia (Vashti Hughes) keeps banging on his door, wanting to complain about an apparent flea infestation. What’s more, her visits frequently interrupt him in the middle of his Peeping Tom routine, functioning as a kind of karmic comeuppance. Alvin might shut the door on her, but that doesn’t cease her ranting, nor does it stop her from coming back. And he must reckon with another, decidedly more mysterious intruder: a brown sticky substance that has begun dribbling from the ceiling of his apartment. He is curious and perturbed, the vaguely sinister goop an affront to his fastidious nature. It’s when he starts to search for its source that things start to get weird(er).

Teik Kim Pok, Alvin’s World of Opposites

His investigation leads him up into the attic and, it seems, another dimension — a neat plot twist borrowed from Being John Malkovich (1999). Alvin suddenly finds himself in a cluttered shanty, where a short-statured woman (Indonesian singer Dessy Fitri) sings and coos contentedly as she potters around with a crutch, keeping house. She becomes Alvin’s tour guide through her otherworldly realm (actually Jakarta), clutching his wrist and leading him across a rocky landscape and through an abandoned carnival — these wide open spaces appearing all the more bizarre after being cooped up with Alvin in his cosy, cluttered apartment for almost the entire film. The woman appeals to him with gesticulations and her singsong babble, but he stares blankly at her, uncomprehending. He nevertheless lets himself be dragged along, a mute tourist way outside his comfort zone, unknowingly moving towards the ooze’s origins, revealed to him in a satisfyingly surreal — and oddly uplifting — climactic sequence.

Alvin crawls through his roof cavity and into the fertile recesses of his psyche, escaping the toxic solitude of his apartment through a new, meditative mode of introspection. In Alvin’s World, confined spaces open up to reveal larger ones, Theodoris (harmoniously) blurring the boundary between physical and metaphysical. The film makes manifest the Tardis-like nature of the mind — its capacity to contain huge expanses; to become a mode of transport.

Alvin’s Harmonious World of Opposites, writer, director Platon Theodoris, performers Teik Kim Pok, Vashti Hughes, Dessy Fitri, cinematographers Hari Bowo, Vanna Seang, Platon Theodoris, editor David Rudd, production designe Mas Guntur, Shin-Shin, screening now on REVonDemand.

Keva York is a film critic and a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney, writing her thesis on Crispin Glover’s It trilogy.

Top image credit: Teik Kim Pok, Alvin’s Harmonious World of Opposites

26 September 2017