The Place of No Words, directed by Mark Webber presents a family on the brink of the father’s death (played by Webber) and seeks to explore the concept of death and how the father’s child Bodhi, (played by Webber’s actual son) perceives death through his own eyes. The Place of No Words blends the reality of the situation with Bodhi’s playtime fantasies allowing the audience to witness the visualizations of not just Bodhi’s emotions, but his dying father’s as well.
However, this isn’t to say that the film makes those feelings immediately obvious, or even strongly expresses them at times. While overall I believe subtlety is a good thing, sometimes the film presents an idea and then simply abandons it shortly after. For example, at one point in the middle of the film, Bodhi and Mark encounter doubles of themselves, only the doubles are their own corpses, standing dead eyed and unmoving. The duo shortly consider the copies, Bodhi looking slightly scared for a moment, and then simply moving on to the next part of the adventure, where Mark looks more pensive. The scene is clearly meant to show the lack of understanding of a child of Bodhi’s age, and the burden that Mark is carrying knowing that he is dying. However, the scene is too short and the doubles are never seen again, out of sight, out of mind, One could argue that this is simply leaning into the narrative frame of being a child’s fantasy, and young children typically don’t dwell on things, but, there could have been more wrung out of the situation. Another such instance is the encounter with a monster growing out of mud, and then quickly being shrunk back down to nothing. It’s explained by a witch that the monster is Bodhi’s fears and anxieties, and the more fearful he feels, the more it will grow. Knowing that the film is about Mark’s death, one might expect the fear monster to reappear later in the film, but this creature, like the corpse doubles, is simply never seen again. These were missed opportunities to explore some of Bodhi’s emotions a bit deeper.
Despite these shortcomings, the film has a refreshing approach to death and it’s process. The audience is never encouraged to look at the scenes in a certain way. The process of death isn’t heavily dramatic, and it is insistent that life must go on despite its ending. The scenes of reality, often shown from the parent’s perspective, show that the process of death as almost mundane. They still take Bodhi to a birthday party, to the park, and even when Mark is in the hospital the drama is not ratcheted up. The scenes show a patient father taking care of his son despite his illness and a mother preparing for the death of her husband and to take care of Bodhi alone. Another notable scene is Mark and Bodhi sitting on the floor taking pictures of themselves together. These scenes show that death is not always like we see in other films, there is mundanity, laughter, and celebration, even if they are overcast by the death’s cloud.
The Place of No Words is competently shot and edited, with no real apparent flaws but without hitting high notes. The score, filled with dreamlike, and even lullaby-esque melodies reinforces emotions without standing out. However, the costuming and special effects are outstanding, especially in the fantasy scenes. They look great while helping sell the world of the fantasy.
The Place of No Words’ non-chronological structure and sometimes picked up and sometimes immediately dropped concepts make the film feel less engaging at times while watching. However, I believe the film is much more engaging after it ends, if you are willing to dive into the concepts it presents. What does death mean to someone who barely understands life? Does it have any meaning for someone who spends most of their time wrapped in fantasy? Death contains more emotions than sadness and loss. Film has always been known as a collaborative art form, and the participation of the audience is often overlooked. The Place of No Words does not overlook this, it demands it. The Place with No Words becomes much richer when the viewer actively thinks on what’s going on, how Bodhi and Mark react differently, how they can empathize with the characters and see their own experiences within them. -TL