Cosmic Horror: In the Vast of Night (Andrew Patterson, 2019)

Who run the world? Aliens, possibly. 

Cosmic Horror: In the Vast of Night (Andrew Patterson, 2019)

The first time I saw In the Vast of Night, it didn’t make much of an impression. The gimmick — a UFO landing, told entirely through the perspective of two people working at a local radio station — had been spoiled for me in advance. The aesthetic seemed polite and well-mannered, one more well-made little A24-like movie that “elevated” its subject matter by sucking all the fun out of it. This was, if you’ll recall, a UFO movie that came out around the same time as Nope. It was destined to suffer by comparison. 

A few weeks ago — sadder, wiser, admittedly a bit more stoned — I rewatched In the Vast of Night. I now find it to be heartbreakingly beautiful. The quietness of it all, the long takes, the dark shadows, the screen that sometimes just fades to black so you can concentrate on the sound of some unseen person talking — all of that no longer feels dull, but reverent, almost religious in its way. Vast whispers the way you’d whisper in a church; struck with the awe and dread of something beyond humanity’s capacity to comprehend. 

Human beings cannot see the face of God. It would obliterate us to stare into something that powerful. Human beings cannot see UFOs, either, or at least we usually don’t, but In the Vast of Night suggests that being unable to see something does not make it any less real. 

In their 2013 book Hyperobjects, the philosopher Timothy Morton sets forth the idea of a hyperobject as something that is too big to apprehend in its entirety, but which is nonetheless present, even omnipresent, in daily life. The 4.5 billion year half-life of uranium is a hyperobject — your mind cannot expand to take in that much time, at least not as anything more than a vague abstraction, but we have to plan for it when we do nuclear waste disposal. Climate change is a hyperobject; you can’t see it happening all at once, but as I sit here, on a 40-degree January day in upstate New York, climate change is all around me. 

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