One of the talking heads in Steve Elkins’ Echoes of the Invisible is science writer Anil Anathaswamy, who discusses an observatory in the remote regions of India. By the time the documentary introduces him, tits themes become more apparent to the viewers. This is about the gifts of isolation at a time when most people are sick of that feeling. But this doc isn’t just about not being about to leave one’s home. It’s about people, or sometimes living creatures, who choose to live patiently.
Echoes of the Invisible tries to get at the aspects of that patience, that it somehow involves reaching out, whether it’s towards one’s fellow human or at a place. One of the film’s subjects is Lydia Lynch, who tries to reinterpret nature through her work. Sometimes she discusses that work, and at others, she explains the work of her ex-husband, journalist Paul Salopek. Salopek is a man who captures his experience in retracing early human migration, an ongoing project. And he often faces jail time because of his choice to cover isolated parts of the world.
Some critics can compare Echoes of the Invisible with other documentaries. I see this more as a chopped and screwed and somehow more conventional version of Samsara. It has wild juxtapositions, from space footage of the sun to a match lighting in an isolated church in Ethiopia. It tries to get at Jungian natural patterns and about contemporary blindness to certain universalities. But it throws many subjects at its viewers so much that we wonder what this documentary is about.
Echoes of the Invisible‘s interviews can also come off in two ways. One of those interviews is with Rachel Sussman. Sussman, at one point during the documentary, sought to photograph the oldest living creatures on Earth. She at times contextualizes these life forms with whatever technology humans came up with at a time. She can be insightful at times. However, she has the same tendency as the other subjects. All of them can come off as the kind of person who has new age beliefs.
Nonetheless, there’s something about Echoes of the Invisible that also comes off as workmanlike and observant. Sometimes it just lets its subjects free from the interview chair. And those subjects behave fascinatingly in the many environments of their choosing. Al Arnold uses a walker to revisit the mountain that he ran to when he was still an ultramarathon athlete. The same goes for its other subjects, whether they be writers and artists. In a way, it champions human achievement as much as it does the world they inhabit.