“Imagine a world without birdsong.”
“Imagine a world without birdsong,” states the log line for Su Rynard’s haunting, hypnotic documentary The Messenger. That may not be the type of statement that instantly pops for a majority of people, but Rynard’s film makes a good case for why it should.
The Messenger chronicles the plight of songbirds across the world, from the streets of Toronto, to the 9/11 memorial in New York to poachers in Southern Europe, and beyond. The story that unfolds tells of how endangered songbirds really are — meeting their untimely demise due to an ever changing world. A world where they crash into skyscrapers, or are torn apart by roaming cats, or become exotic meals. If it sounds bleak, it’s because it partly is. There are moments in The Messenger where people wander around the exteriors of skyscrapers picking up dead birds who have unknowingly smashed head-first into glass. But there’s hope also. As one person who helps collect such unfortunate birds describes, there will often be a moment when, amongst a large group of deceased birds one will still be alive. And when you can rescue and release a bird like that back into the wild, it can change everything.
Rynard jumps from location to location smoothly, with editors Sally Blake, Carole Larsen, Eamonn O’Connor piecing together each moment with grace as Philip Strong’s score layers over everything. At one point, birds flutter through the bright lights of the 9/11 memorial, until people keeping watch are forced to shut the lights down. “The last thing anyone wants to see at this spot are a bunch of dead birds,” someone explains. Another scene follows a German DJ who uses birdsong into his thumping EDM music, and we watch as club goers bathed in fluttering blue light dance enthusiastically to the sounds.
Through the film, Rynard employs breathtaking slow motion footage of various birds in flight against a black background. We watch, transfixed, as their wings work almost like magic, cutting through the invisible air and ever moving onward. It’s emotionally engrossing, pulling the viewer into the unparalleled beauty on display. “Imagine a world without birdsong” may seem like trivial statement before you watch The Messenger, but after it’s ended, such a statement will shock you. In a world such as this, with the way things are now, who could possible want less beauty?