FILM REVIEW: 51.7 Hz
A young indigenous man invites an alien to his island to see a lonely whale. The three separate entities are brought together through a unique form of communication.
Director: Kang Zhen Wei
Language: Amis with English subtitles
Runtime: 19 min
Review by Nadia Alang
The title references the 52-Hertz whale that you might have heard about. This whale’s songs had a unique frequency that meant it could not be heard by its own kind. It was detected by the US Navy in 1989; a couple years later, when they couldn’t find anything else like it, the world went wild with their imaginations. Even though the unexplained sightings have ceased, it continues to be pegged as the ‘loneliest whale on Earth’. And rightfully so too.
Imagine not being able to communicate or even so much as be heard, especially in a place as scarily vast as the sea. Imagine having to wander around in solitude. Imagine being alone. Sad, right? But then the film reimagines that the whale does find company, and although everything happens on a desolate island, the isolation is not at all discomforting.
Usually, watching films confined in a single place leaves you feeling claustrophobic, like in Finding Nemo (2001), Cast Away (2003) or Gravity (2013), where you root for Nemo to get out of that fish-bowl and watch Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock fight their way back to civilisation.
With 51.7 Hz, it’s not about finding a way home but about making peace with this planet we call home. It’s literally about people and creatures singing the same tune and forming a bond despite their jarring differences. Yeah, deep stuff. But what I loved was exactly this combination of man, animal and alien, each in their own state of loneliness but brought together by fate. The story’s told so gently – with a poignant soundtrack accompanying the gorgeous landscape and cameos of the loneliest whale on the planet – that it would tug at the coldest of hearts.
Depending on whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist, the film evokes either sadness or hope. You could either be reminded that the three beings remain separate in their existence, or you could get this hopeful feeling that if even the loneliest whale can find something or someone to communicate with, then maybe there is hope yet for all the people who’ve ever felt alone in this big, big world.
It’s these kinds of experimental films that some people may shy away from because they prefer the thrill of watching an adventure, or the ease of following a more ‘complete’ storyline, which they won’t really find here. Nonetheless, viewing them gives you a different kind of experience, one that is worth the time. For one thing, it’s gorgeous – the minimal lighting casting shadows here and there, the still-frames of Nature’s ever-changing states and the sound and music accompanying the visuals… It is all very enchanting.
There is a lot to learn from 51.7 Hz and a one-time viewing did not cut it for me. Every shot is packed with so much symbolism and aesthetic beauty that I found myself pausing at times just to take it all in.
Personally, I was left deeply sympathetic for the man who sings to the whale and speaks to no one, or at least not anyone we see. But his unfaltering spirit left me wondering, maybe it isn’t as crazy as it sounds – even Tom Hanks made friends with a volleyball in Cast Away. If there is a thread that binds the strangest beings together, then the story gives me hope that the world isn’t as scary as it seems.
You can catch 51.7 Hz on Viddsee here!