11 March 2013 | kaustavthegodfather
The life and death of a merchant vessel
Peter Hutton's silent At Sea tracks the birth, life, and death of a container ship. Significantly lowering the costs of international trade, the shipping container "box" has been a vital instrument for the constitution of the current networks of global capitalism. The film begins with the construction of container ships in South Korea, a process that takes place on such a grand, epic scale that it seems to have transcended the limits of the humans who appear as specks next to the hulls of the ships. The middle section of the film rides along on one ship as it crosses the ocean from Montreal to Hamburg. But as the camera looks out across the rainy bow of the ship, the countless stacks of brightly-colored containers underscore the fact that the purpose of the trip is the circulation of commodities, not humans and their imagination. Those economic calculations become more cruelly explicit in the film's concluding section, which takes place on a shore in Bangladesh, a post-apocalyptic wasteland where, alone on the sand, the ships that have been deemed to be no longer useful are scavenged using dangerous pre-industrial techniques. When everything of value that can be removed has been stripped off, the ships are left on the shore like rusty fossils prematurely aged.