‘The most important thing is to move’ – Jakarta and the drifting figure
Short story writer Rain Chudori’s review of acclaimed Indonesian film director Joko Anwar’s Jakarta film ‘Copy of My Mind’
“Are you afraid?” Alek asks Sari, the young woman lying next to him. Sari of the billowing hair, of the coquettish eyes, of the light fingers. Sari who, somehow, tenderly, almost tragically, landed in his arms. It is difficult not to question Sari’s decision in a lover. Alek is, despite the curls that fall over his eyes and his unquestionably strong arms, a rogue. How could Sari settle for a man who works as a pirated DVD subtitle maker? What was it that united these lovers beyond their shared love for cinema and dancing in the dark? And then Sari shook her head no. She was not afraid. Far from it. And I finally understood.
A Copy of My Mind follows Sari, a beautiful drifting figure in the heart of the polluted, corrupted, city of Jakarta. Jakarta is not known for its mercy, yet she moves effortlessly, accepting anything the city might offer. She walks down sunlit streets filled with campaigning politicians, sits patiently in overflowing buses, passes through cramped back-alleys cramped with illegally set up stalls. Sari, the nomad, welcomes the heat, the noise, even the crowd, to become a part of her and she shows us that the most important thing is to move. Sari attempts to become what Braidotti calls a “nomadic body”, a materially present identity, “that lasts, that goes on – for a while –…by encountering other bodies.” yet she is unable to experience these sensations internally. Sari fails to understand that to become the nomadic body, you must not only move, not only encounter, but also feel.
Sari is merely one nomadic body in a city of 9 million nomadic bodies. We regularly inhabit public places that require a certain degree of mobility and patience. This practice, undoubtedly familiar to everyone who lives in the city, creates an instinctive reaction depending on our surroundings. We speak a certain way, sit a certain way, walk a certain way, we move a certain way, when we inhabit public spaces such as buses, trains, and sidewalks. We are constantly alert, yet we forget most of the sensations that we experience, and therefore, fail to internalize it, at the end of our day. Our sensations are assaulted on a daily basis, yet nothing truly touches us.
Sari begins as a facial therapist in a third-rate spa, though she (and arguably, her colleagues) provide much more than that. They listen to the customers’ complaints of their personal lives, provide advice, and speak in a gentle volume, all the while invigorating their faces with their hands. The problem is, there is no reciprocation in this relationship. In an attempt to find something better, something else, Sari moves to the first-rate spa across from her old work place. She comes to realize that it is much worse, as she must follow a mandatory training that isolates her and forces her to work with high-end machines that takes away the warmth, the intimacy, that she was seeking. The first-rate spa is almost utopic for the clients who come to seek solitude from their high-pressure roles as socialites, businesswomen, and politicians, but offers nothing that resembles reciprocal intimacy for their staff. Again, Sari’s identity has been diminished into a pair of comforting hands, and finds herself stripped off of her own senses.
The search for physical pleasure becomes the central focus in Sari’s movement. She provides a service that capitalizes on beauty as catharsis, an intimate handling of women by women, almost a friendship – yet it is a privilege that she cannot afford. She has become alienated from her own body. It would help if there were a semblance of intimacy between her and her colleagues, but their conversations merely revolve on the weather, traffic, and wages. She comes home to a dormitory filled with young women and travels between their bodies cramped in hallways – gossiping, cooking, washing their clothes, lining up for the shared bathroom – but chooses to lock herself in her room and watch films alone. This decision itself is a testament of how much she has exhausted her own body as she can no longer offer it as anything other than service. Sari’s body has been reduced to one of apathy.
Sari’s encounter with Alek was an immediate one. He had confronted her when she stole from her regular DVD shop, chasing her down, and physically obstructing her. Their physical chemistry was immediate and everything that came between them: the discussion about films, the confession of loneliness in the big city, the immersion of each other’s habit was merely build up to their relationship. They exhibit public displays of affection, holding hands and kissing each other between sentences, erasing any sign of hostility within the city through their passion alone. In privacy, Sari’s performative seduction, transforms Alek’s stifling, rundown room into a cinematically intimate space. Sari relies completely on her senses, stripped down to the barest of clothes, and moves according to the jazz song, to the streetlights, to Alek’s fixated gaze. Sari has finally become the nomadic body: moving, encountering, and feeling.
“Are you afraid?” Alek asks Sari, the young woman next to him. Sari of the flesh, of the bones, of the material world. Sari who, somehow, tenderly, almost tragically, landed in his arms. And here is where I finally understood Sari’s decision in a lover. It was not the curls that fall over his eyes and his unquestionably strong arms. It was not their fondness for cinema and dancing in the dark. It was that this rogue, this person of hers, was the only thing that touched her in a city full of senses. And then Sari shook her head no. She was not afraid. Far from it. She was ready.