Nate Milton has an absolutely uncanny ability to distill complex emotions into singular images. As a viewer, that makes his films incredibly pleasant to watch. As a writer, it makes them difficult to describe—the whole point is that they capture something that isn’t meant to be put into words. His Feelings trilogy (FEELINGS, DELUSIONS, and ENCOUNTERS) was impressive enough in its emotional heft—each film stitches together stream-of-consciousness lists of images, memories and thoughts and assembles them into stunning collages of the mundane and the magical. Combined with spine-tingling scores from O.B. Howard (credited here as Buck St. Thomas), the films are almost shockingly potent.

Even still, Eli came as a surprise. As coherent as the Feelings trilogy was, it was also a set of lists, with no narrative behind it. Eli is considerably more complex. Described as a “true story based on the filmmaker’s experience within the realms of High Strangeness, Magical Thinking and Manic Delusion,” it has a fine line to walk between emotional transparency and some truly weird content. Yet it doesn’t just walk that line, it dances it beautifully. Every moment just feels right—that ability to quickly convey complicated feelings serves Milton very well here.

Saying that Eli resonates is maybe too obvious, since resonance is such a significant metaphor in the film. But it’s true, and it’s built into every beat of the film. There’s auditory resonance—the central character has a rock in his ear that vibrates at a particular frequency, that aggravates him until he discovers how to harmonize with it. There are the more cosmic resonances, the grand ways that images and moments harmonize with each other throughout the film, building to their own crescendos. And by the end, it feels that both kinds of resonance might be one and the same.

Written as a way to come to terms with a manic episode in Milton’s past, Eli is an intimate, grounded portrait of mental illness, one that gives the subjective experience of alien encounters, altered perceptions, and cosmic awareness a rare honesty and empathy. Unlike many similar films, its emotional core is anchored as much in wonder as it is in fear; awesome and ecstatic in the more ancient sense of those words. Watching it, you sense the line between strangeness, magic, and mania might only exist in the beholder; or maybe Milton is just that skilled at making you feel what it’s like to behold it.


dir: Nate Milton

syn: This is a true story based on the filmmaker’s experiences within the realms of High Strangeness, Magical Thinking and Manic Delusion.

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