*. We begin with an establishing shot: a square and a street in front of the blank, generic face of an office building. The facade makes a grid, reflected in the square before it. We know the title of Ruben Östlund’s film so we know we’re about to witness something. We’re in Rear Window mode.
*. But, as in Rear Window, at first there’s too much going on. That bus full of screaming revellers must be meant as a distraction, but where exactly is our attention meant to be focused? On a window in the building’s facade, or something happening in the street?
*. There’s an individual voice now we can hear. But where is it coming from? I thought at first it might be that man to the right, talking on his cellphone. But as the camera makes its selection for us we zoom down to the left and a man talking to a friend just appearing from off camera. We’re in Blow-Up or The Conversation mode. This is no longer witness but surveillance.
*. Or at least surveillance for us. It’s still witness for the men with the camera. We’re at one remove from the action, watching the watchers (this is the twenty-first century, so things have gotten very meta). In the language of the Internet, we are lurkers. We direct the camera, at least to a limited extent, but we’re not involved. We’re not Jimmy Stewart but some anonymous security guard.
*. Also like the Internet we can watch without being at any risk ourselves. Shots are fired, but not at us. Meanwhile, the people on the screen are seen at such a distance as to be anonymous. We can’t make out their faces. We can tell if they’re men or women, young or old, but that’s about it.
*. Well, we all know about the bystander effect. Is that something that the Internet amplifies, or corrects? We’ve been told the Internet was going to make us all more connected. I don’t think that’s how it’s worked out. Instead we seem more comfortable than ever in the role of voyeur, with the single long take (like an Internet feed) flattening out any spike in empathy. Meanwhile, those people in the scene aren’t doing much to stop what’s going on, aside from the cranky old man who tips over the bike. The two friends with the camera make their movie and then head on their way, complaining only about the video quality of what they shot.
*. As for us, we clicked on the link. Are we relieved that no one got hurt, or do we feel cheated? Like our proxies with the camera we may decide there was nothing to see here and that we should just move along.