Belonging to the archaic category of endlessly recycled narratives, Takashi Doscher’s “Only” illustrates mid-20s couple Will and Eva’s struggle to survive an apocalyptic pandemic that has shoved humanity to the brink of extinction. However, deviating from previous epidemic clichés, Doscher’s original story adds a twist, hinted in its title as subtly as it is guised by its nonsequential narrative structure. Although the virus’ infectivity does not discriminate, it onlyposes a health threat for women: males are asymptomatic.
Thematically resonating with a world in the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic, “Only” escalated to Netflix’s top 10 most popular list in early July as millions of quarantined viewers relating to the premise tuned in.
The film’s epicenter lies not in the apocalypse itself; rather the virus’ impact on the couple’s relationship as Eva is forced into an extreme and dehumanizing confinement. The impossibility of physical contact—much less intimacy—between them completely alters their relationship, and Will promptly adopts a parental role fixated on maintaining her alive. As a year elapses and millions of women perish worldwide, Eva's psychological wellbeing deteriorates, and her confined state elicits an existential crisis.
Without an end in sight, prevailing in a solitary cubicle devoid of the slightest human interaction or life experience becomes meaningless to her. Persisting in such conditions does not qualify as living, and she is as good as dead. Mentally shattered by cabin fever and alienation, she rises against her mortal fears—as well as Will’s dissenting parental authority—and escapes her miserable confinement, thus contracting the fatal virus but ironically returning to life.
The non-linear narrative structure is thus constructed according to this philosophical exploration—the film’s nucleus—of what it means to live and to what extent is a miserable survival for survival’s sake purposeful. Considering this, the film’s abrupt conclusion upon the couple’s sighting of a waterfall is more logical.
Referencing a previous scene where Eva melancholically glares at the waterfall in her laptop’s desktop, the real-life cascade contrasts this virtual image and signifies liberty and experience. The parallel dichotomizes freedom and confinement, thus implying that to live and to survive are not synonyms. Prevailing as miserably and pointlessly as Eva was in isolation is not living, for this entails indulging in life’s beauty and pleasure.
As the aesthetic waterfall pours freely, symbolizing Eva’s liberation, the couple is mesmerized by the natural splendor and ensuing joy that has been absent the past year of their lives. Eva asks Will, “Now, do you understand?” pleading him to comprehend why she escaped confinement and walked towards her inevitable demise: She needed to feel alive once again, and experiencing pleasure’s nostalgic warmth was her final desire.
“Only’s” thoughtful yet customary philosophical discourse is not captivating enough to justify its lack of profundity. Beyond general observations, the film provides little to no explanations on the nature of the world’s socioeconomic state, resulting in a shallow and limited setting that fails to enthrall the viewer.
Although males have gone unharmed, the absence of masculine habitation in the town’s establishing shots contradicts this premise and limits the horizons of “Only’s” world. Notwithstanding, Doscher purposefully does this to guise the virus’ gender-specific aggression and build up the reveal.
A less justifiable instance of the world’s limits is reflected in the lack of authoritative presence in the film. The narrative establishes a government that is desperately seeking female survivors to conduct experiments, even offering a $2 million reward per person delivered. However, there is no police presence anywhere in the film beyond the SWAT raid in the opening scene.
The minimalist setting could have been supplanted by an imaginative set design, but there is nothing to distinguish “Only’s” world construction from other apocalyptic flicks. Generic models of chaos and debris that receive slight camera attention do little to strengthen the somber tone.
Nevertheless, “Only’s” shortcomings in writing and innovation are compensated by its aesthetic cinematography. The film’s dim and cold cyan lighting reinforces the somber tone and is delivered in a standard yet effective camera work. Notably, the sequences in the campfire are painted in a gorgeous and wonderfully lit orange-black contrast that casts a memorable silhouette aesthetic, likely the best component of the film.
Guising as an experimental variation of the age-old pandemic narrative, Takashi Doscher’s “Only” constructs a banal and underdeveloped apocalyptic world presented in a pretentious non-linear structure that centers upon a rather vapid philosophical discourse. Parallel to the story’s mundane premise, the film’s exploration of what it means to live fails to inspire introspection beyond its source value. The lack of context provided about the setting obviates the fact that the scenario merely serves to foreground this philosophical dialogue, begging the question that it could have been delivered in a more creative format. Insistence on this shallow theme proves inefficient and ultimately harms the setting’s development, placing ‘Only” alongside the endless number of trite, repeated, and forgettable apocalyptic flicks.