You Are Here opens with footage of ocean waves crashing on a shore as a lecturer (R. D. Reid) instructs a largely unseen audience to allow their minds to take them wherever they wish. After a few moments, the man shines a red laser pointer on the waves and asks the audience if their attention automatically drifted to the pointer’s dot. The key, the lecturer tells them, is to somehow allow the pointer to act as a guide into the footage of the waves while simultaneously following your own thought processes, your own path.
Director Daniel Cockburn clearly means the more-abstract-than-usual self-help seminar that opens the film as a metaphor for the questions and riddles of destiny and free will that many of us ponder from time to time. The remainder of You Are Here expands on the metaphor with an increasingly elaborate series of vignettes infused with sci-fi symbols that will be familiar to fans of Franz Kafka and Phillip K. Dick, among many others. A number of seemingly interchangeable people all named Alan ponder a near-death experience, a forgotten password, and an ominous door that’s illogically located on an outer side of a high-rise. A man locked in a barren room is forced to translate Chinese with cryptic clues despite no prior knowledge of the language. A child tells a story of a man who invents an omnipresent computer worn in your eye that could end the existence of the world. A woman desperately tries to piece together found audio-visual artifacts, including footage of the opening seminar, into a cohesive whole that continually eludes her. And the most thematically explicit plot strand follows a group of office drones as they manipulate the comings and goings of characters featured in other stories.
Some of Cockburn’s intentions are probably still locked up in his mind, but it’s fairly apparent that You Are Here is meant as a parable of man’s suspicion that he’s a cog in an elaborate, indifferent machine, and that notions of free will and individuality are perversely illusory. In other words, the search for larger meaning, while part of humankind’s birthright, is also ultimately a fool’s errand.
Cockburn isn’t without ambition or talent. You Are Here has a striking look, and some moments have an ominous charge, but the film is mostly ponderous. Each story essentially arrives at the same purposefully irresolvable conclusion, and many of them are accompanied by narration that’s performed in a drone that immediately grows tedious. And Cockburn is fatally humorless (he’s forgotten that Kafka and Dick’s work, while despairing, is often quite funny) in his consideration of themes that have been around at least as long as universities and marijuana. Some will find You Are Here compelling, but underneath the riddles it’s basically a self-important proclamation of “Who the hell knows?”