In My Own Landscapes Antoine Chapon has created a film about one man’s form of escapism, a virtual world he helped create to prepare soldiers for the horrors of war. This becomes the environment he returns to in order to escape these horrors himself.
The film tells the harrowing story of Cyril, a professional video game player turned soldier. In an attempt to find respite from his past, he has built a place where he can momentarily escape his darkest memories.
“Often I dream about what I saw in the video game. That’s normal – all players know that when you play for more than ten hours a day, you see the same characters, the same shapes. You hear the sounds when you close your eyes before you fall asleep. These dreams block my nightmares,” he says in the film.
Cyril is attempting to fill his unconscious mind with beautiful images, to push out the ugly ones. We are shown real archive footage of a group of soldiers carrying casualties into a helicopter in an open plain. The scene pauses, and we see Cyril amongst them. This tableau switches between real and virtual footage, but of the same scene, almost identical.
Then in the game we see a blown-up helicopter, soldiers lying lifeless on the floor. It is clear Cyril has experienced this in reality, and has had to relive it in subsequent therapy sessions in VR. This is confirmed later, “when you see a helicopter explode with your burning friends in it, you don’t care about the nature around you. You flood with tears in your helmet, or [in] virtual reality. Nature no longer exists there.”
He talks against a backdrop of silence. After a pause, the director expertly introduces sounds of nature – a clever auditory cue to indicate that we have moved on from a world he previously described as devoid of nature, to a world full of it.
We are told that after unsuccessful therapy session to manage his PTSD, Cyril bought a virtual reality headset. Using the skills acquired in creating virtual worlds for combat simulators commissioned by the army, he goes on to create new and fundamentally different worlds, ones oriented around beauty as opposed to combat.
In one such world we see him creating rocky outcrops on the shore of a barren island. Then trees, then shrubbery, and then he adds the sound of birds. Although artificial, the game world is both beautiful and serene. As an audience, we move through these worlds with Cyril. These are the worlds he inhabits now, the worlds he prefers.
It is a bold creative decision to use a female for voice-over whose pitch and tone are so different from the subject. The actress that director Chapon employs delivers Cyril’s words in a flat manner, devoid of emotion, considering the expletive-laden and often sharp nature of his sentences. Although unexpected, this decision works, as it gives the audience a chance to really hear his story laid out bare.
My Own Landscapes covers the subject of PTSD from the only meaningful perspective – that of someone who lives with it every day. The director lets nothing detract from the core dilemma and his subsequent coping mechanism. The only words spoken are Cyril’s, and every time we see him, he is contrasted against a black background, which makes him the focus of every scene he is in.
Chapon obviously recognises the problems of alienation that veterans face when returning to society. This film highlights this in a powerful and palpable way and is commendable for that reason, affording us a view of how one person has found a way to cope in the wake of experiences that most of us, thankfully, will never have to live through.
Director: Antoine Chapon