A blind man running through the hot desert of Death Valley; a photographer capturing images of the oldest living organisms on Earth; a journalist walking across the world in the footsteps of the earliest human migrations; and scientists building machines that scrutinise the universe, in search for its beginnings The link between them is not evident at first. But waived together, their stories are complementary, each adding to a bigger picture that reveals something about the fabric of existence.
That is where the power of Steve Elkins’ new film is: it captures something about the essence of reality, that is more existential insight than something anyone can prove or quantify. More than the sum of its parts, Echoes of the Invisible is made of a mosaic of elements – interviews with the main characters, spectacular cinematic shots, and links to Eastern spirituality – that work together to create a revelation about how paying attention, stepping outside the noise of contemporary life and finding courage are the tools that can open our eyes to the overwhelming magic of existence, in which everything is one, interconnected.
Watching the film is a journey, one that brings about a sense of awe. Through the inspiring pursuits of each character featured, a new sense is awakened – that magic is at hand and could be found just anywhere.
Going beyond the limitations of his body, Al Arnold runs through the Death Valley all the way to Mt. Whitney, although he’s blind. The cathartic experience of ultrarunning is an immersion into the present moment and in nature. He experiences that with all his senses, except sight. Besides the unimaginable adventure of running without seeing, he is the very proof that life is more than what one can see. He doesn’t spend time thinking of what’s good and bad about his situation. He searches for what’s possible and for what is. And through his courage and by doing something extraordinary, he finds the extraordinary in himself.
More than the sum of its parts, Echoes of the Invisible is made of a mosaic of elements
Our oldest beings
Rachel Sussman is an artist and a photographer who goes on a quest for Earth’s oldest living beings. The images she takes are curious. The rarely seen forms of life she captures are also windows to the origins of life. Her quest is a quest for what long precedes us, and though that, it is a search for time. By building a relationship with time scales that are far removed from normal human experience, she creates a link with the continuum evolution of life, of which humans are a part off. And at the same time, a couple of her experiences illustrate just how little aware people are of the living organisms she documents, how easily ignored they are.
While Sussman looks towards the surface of the earth, scientists look towards the sky from the most quiet and remote places on earth – free of sound and light pollution – using the most advanced technology to uncover the origins of the universe. That clear air and the quietness are needed for the magic of the Universe to reveal itself. And they are needed also for reflection and for understanding what the Universe is telling.
And there is also the story of Paul Salopek, who goes on a long journey retrieving the paths of the first human migrations around the world. A journalist who in the past spent much of his time running from one story to another, this different kind of journey he embarks on is about the in-between, and about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.
Mixed with references to Eastern spirituality, and insights into what the secluded lives of hermits can reveal, the film builds up to a resolution. That resolution is not an outcome, but an opening of one’s heart and eyes.
Connecting to the profound insights into reality through this film, is an emotional experience and feels like coming home. Deep inside, we all long for the magic and the meaningful, but often feel these elude us in our busy lives. But though each story in the film is unique, the tools of pursuing those experiences are available for all of us. And in a way that’s what makes the film so inspiring – it brings the realisation that magic is always there, if only we take the time and step out of autopilot mode.
Watching the film is a journey, one that brings about a sense of awe.
An exercise in presence
The overarching theme of Echoes of the Invisible is that interconnectedness is the core of life and seeing that requires an exercise in presence. Buddhists have long talked about the illusion of separation. That separation is the source of suffering and the root of all the problems we create. And it shadows our understanding of who we are and what we need, which is compassion and belonging. The antidote to this illusion is clarity and seeing truthfully. And this film does that. An antidote – its stories and reflections all wrapped in some spectacular shots, it brings the viewer in the present moment, to see things clear.
Perhaps that is the main strength of this film. It does what words cannot do on their own. The way to open eyes on the big themes of our existence and portray the invisible is to let it come to life. And it does that: not an intellectual journey, but an experience. It goes through you, straight to your core. And what remains is not a narrative but a sense of possibility and wonder. And the feeling that the world is magical, and you are part of it, no matter with what you’re keeping your mind busy with in your daily life.