Movie Review: 'In Bright Axiom' Absolute Discretion in Documentary?
Are secret societies possible in the social media age?
In Bright Axiom is one of the more odd documentaries I’ve ever encountered. Not necessarily in presentation as it is relatively conventional in documentary presentation. No, it’s odd because at times you can’t really tell what is real and what is part of the fantasy world of the subject of the documentary, the bizarre living game cum cult experience, The House of Latitude. What is The House of Latitude? Let’s explore…
In Bright Axiom begins with a tour. We are wandering through a series of strange hallways, encountering passwords and puzzles, on our way to what we are told is perhaps a secret party? Sort of? I’ve watched In Bright Axiom and I am at a loss to fully describe the oddities at hand. They involve bizarre robots and what the members of The House of Latitude call Absolute Discretion, a concept wherein attendees swear to not reveal anything about The House of Latitude and what goes on at their secretive conclaves.
The documentary inter-cuts our visual journey through mazes and odd encounters on our way to a party where it is important that you not know anyone already and that you are open to all experiences. The talking head interviews with members of The House of Latitude do their damnedest to make you not think of Latitude as a cult but the markers of one are all over the place from the separation from friends and family to the deeply secretive nature of the gatherings of Latitude and especially the way they hammer home the idea of being open to new experiences.
In and of itself, the idea of being open to new experiences is a good thing, we all should try to be open to new things. It takes on a slightly sinister air however when you are talking about a large, secretive, group encounter in which the highest law of the land is Absolute Discretion, the idea of swearing to never reveal what happens during the House of Latitude gatherings. These gatherings are so ludicrously protected you begin to wonder how anyone has ever been invited in the first place.
In Bright Axiom is populated, for the most part, with fantastical, whimsical, recreations of big moments in the history of The House of Latitude by the founders of the group adventure. Leaders emerge, including Geordie who appears to be the heart and spirit of the group. Geordie’s fantasies are what drive the documentary as the story unfolds and we follow his flights of fancy as he slowly drifts away from the group as it descends into chaos and eventual ruin.
The other truly unique and fascinating character in In Bright Axiom is the millionaire dilettante whose money made the whole thing possible. Without, I believe his name is Jeff, The House of Latitude would not exist. His money and Geordie’s wild fantasies along with a committed fellow few created experiences that are now only legends among those who witnessed the first days of Latitude. It all began with an attempt to create a secret society, ala the Masons, and culminated with petty squabbles over money and discretion.
Though Jeff is portrayed throughout his interviews as something of a spoiled rich kid tossing money about in order to entertain strangers and friends, he proves to be more shrewd than you might suspect as the rabble begins to rebel. There was both a distinct plan for The House of Latitude and a serious lack of a plan as well. They had an idea and money and no map for where it was all intended to go in the end.
All of this turmoil is captured by director Spencer McCall who claims to have been recruited as an artistic contributor to the fantastical fantasies of The House of Latitude only to end up the most inside outsider in history. Geordie urged Spencer to make a documentary about Latitude in a move that proved to be his undoing as a leader of the group which, again, was founded on the idea of the kind of secrecy, Absolute Discretion, that doesn’t lend itself to a documentary.
I must say I adored the absurdity of Spencer attempting to objectively film a meeting that boils down to people being upset that he’s been recruited to make a documentary. The meeting is a little more about the idea that the once free experience of the society is now considering charging membership fees, but the surrealism is nevertheless notable and exciting. That same energy arises later as one of the subjects of the movie attempts to turn Spencer’s camera on him in an encounter that goes from friendly to adversarial in a fashion that you can’t tell what is real and what is for show.
In Bright Axiom is a greeting the House of Latitude uses, part password and part hello. Vocabulary is part of the overall feel of the group alongside its very cult-like rules. As much as the group wants to see itself as an artistic collective, one where people can come and go as they please but risk losing their access to the group should they not embrace the culture, the movie does well to give the group a fair shake at not being a creepy cult.
In Bright Axiom premiered in theaters in New York and Los Angeles on November 8th and will soon be available on streaming rental services.