Cargo Review (SPOILERS): If Death Does Not Matter, Does Life?

What an interesting movie! It feels like it must mean something when you first watch it, and then you decide it means nothing, and then you decide it means everything. It’s an exciting journey.

Whole narrative:

Normally I say “whole plot”, but this film doesn’t really have a plot. In this universe, almost immortal demons run a spaceship where they process dead souls to be taken into the afterlife and reincarnation. Vikrant Massay is one of the first astronaut/demons running one of the ships. His supervisor is making him take on an assistant, Shweta Tripathi. He disapproves of her, especially when she hesitates with her first interaction with a dead soul, but is impressed when she reveals her healing powers. Shweta forces Vikrant to call up his old girlfriend from training, Konkona Sen Sharma, and they have a brief call admitting that they miss each other. There is a meteor shower and the ship is damaged. In the aftermath, Shweta has to process someone alone and is scared by him, and her healing powers go away in the shock. Vikrant covers for her, having gotten used to her presence. Her healing powers come back and she remains on the ship. But Vikrant is now called back, because he has had more than ten “Repeats”, that is, people who died and were reincarnated and died again on his watch. Shweta alone on the spaceship finds a picture he drew of her and a watch he left as a present (something she tried to take on her first day from a dead soul and he told her it was wrong). She welcomes her new assistant to the station.

Cargo (2019) - IMDb

That’s it. Putting it in every day terms, we have a bureaucrat who has worked alone for a long time forced to work with a new young assistant. Shortly after she arrives, she is in danger of losing her job, and he protects her because he has grown used to her. Surprisingly, it is he who ends up leaving instead and she welcomes someone new to work with her. It just happens to take place on a Reincarnation Spaceship, between to almost immortal Rakshasas.

My first reaction was to enjoy the subtle humor of it, the wedding party that died in a bus trip and mill about playing music, the little perfectly dull joked between Vikrant and his remote supervisor Nandu Madhav. And the cleverness of the little tossed off things like Shweta being a model for a “remove your fangs” before/after dentistry ad. And then I started waiting for something to happen, for Vikrant to fall in love with Shweta, for one of the dead people to reveal a mystery, for the whole bureaucratic structure to turn out to be some kind of wild conspiracy. It never did, and the movie just sort of ended, and I started to feel angry at the con job. It’s just a slice of life boring film! Why give it all the imaginative visuals and stuff if you aren’t going to DO anything with it????

I slept on it and I was still angry. And then after sitting with the film a few days, I think I have come around to seeing that it really does have something to say. And part of that is NOT saying it. Your life doesn’t make sense in one blinding moment. The meaning of life comes from sitting with all the little moments until you figure out that that’s all that life is, and it is up to you to decide to make it matter it you.

Late in the film we have the closest we ever come to some kind of a “lesson”. Shweta is stressed because her healing power has gone, and they have a last minute arrival, an elderly couple who committed suicide together. They process them, and Vikrant sends the old man in through the reincarnation door first, and he tells his wife not to worry, he will wait for her. Then Vikrant sends her through and takes Shweta over to watch the little blips on the computer screen as the two souls fly off. And he shows her how they do find each other, the two of them coming together again. He says they always find each other.

It seems to be a simple statement about love lasting past life. But I think it is going for something deeper. If you believe in reincarnation, then nothing that happens in this life matters all that much. Vikrant sees the same souls come through twice over, nothing has changed for him and really nothing has changed for them, they lived and died again, that is all. If you lose someone when you die, you will find them again. Arrive at the soul spaceship, hand over your belongings, be healed, and then go off to start again. This is what Vikrant has been doing for decades and it has brought him a strange disconnected calm. He writes letters every night to his old girlfriend, but doesn’t bother to send them. He chats with Nandu Madhav. He has coffee and gets dressed in the morning, draws his little pictures in his room at night. He is just marking time really, and there is plenty of time, even if there is nothing else. That’s why the film feels so strangely timeless, some of the equipment looking like the 1970s, some like the 2000s. It’s possible Vikrant exists outside of time, that his spaceship exists in the past and present simultaneously.

Cargo Movie Review: Fresh & Innovative Slow Burn | Hindi | Netflix

If you believe in reincarnation, you can make the choice to decide that since death does not matter, life does not matter either. That is where Vikrant has come on his journey, floating through space, sending people off to be reborn. That is the calm detachment he is trying to give to Shweta, the new arrival. And he does give it to her, she is easily upset when we first meet her, and by the end she is calm and at peace as he was. But she gives him the ability to connect again. She forces him to talk to Konkona face to face and we immediately see the emotions stirred between them. She makes him care about her, want her to succeed at this job. He doesn’t have to, he is not driven by irresistible love for her, or some strange self-interest, or any outside danger. It is a choice, he has a person and a situation in front of him, and he chooses to care.

This movie is saying that it is a choice we make, moment by moment, whether we will connect and feel, or float through space, isolated and peaceful. Neither is necessarily wrong, or right, says this film. But what you need to decide for yourself is, if none of this matters, if life and death are no longer mysteries, if your own life span is hideously long (there is mention of Nandu’s 137th wedding anniversary), will you still choose to engage? Will you still choose to be hurt? Will you still choose to live, even if there is no death?

19 thoughts on “Cargo Review (SPOILERS): If Death Does Not Matter, Does Life?

  1. I loved Cargo. An hour of magic and mystery, no six packs, no item girls. Vikrant Massey is such an underrated actor. He can do calm and enigmatic (Cargo) and creepy and hateful (Dolly Kitty).
    I got that he and Swetha are rakshashas who make a deal with humans to transport souls rather than eat them, but little else. Your analysis helped a lot.

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    • Yeah, it was interesting how little the premise ended up mattering. They were Rakshashas and so were everyone else they worked with, but it didn’t make them that different from everyone else.

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  2. I had that same experience of waiting for something to happen. It left me very confused and hoping you’d be able to make sense of it for me one day. Because the thing with this movie is, even when you’re frustrated with it, it’s not that easy to just dismiss as boring or something.

    I am still a little frustrated, though. In the end, the time we have spent watching Vikrant doesn’t really seem to have made a difference in his life. He would have had to retire anyways. And we don’t even know where he’s going now.

    I think I was also misled a little by that opening with the “loneliness detective”. It put me in the mindset of wanting Vikrant’s loneliness to be fixed, which is pretty at odds with your perspective of seeing it more as something of a serene detachment.

    I do think this is an interesting film to hit streaming right now. So many more of us can now relate to the situation where you only see your supervisors on video screens. And we know that it does make a difference to have someone work right there beside you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What this made me think of was a conversation I had with someone in one of my random online movie groups. We were doing check in kind of talk, and he was talking about how happy he was, he got laid off and was on unemployment, which was enough to cover his daily expenses. He owned his own condo, so no worry about moving. And I kept waiting for him to say something about what he was DOING, like, if I wasn’t working I would be working on my blog, or rearranging my furniture, or starting a sewing project, you know? And he said he was happy just doing nothing. But I kept thinking “that’s not happiness” or rather “that’s not living”. You can’t just float through life without any purpose at all, even if it is a silly purpose like “alphabetizing all my books”.

      So that’s what I was thinking of with this movie. It’s not about if your life has meaning, it’s about the meaning you give your life. Nothing that happened in the film changed anything, but that’s kind of the point. Even if your actions have no real effect, you should still do them. You can’t just write letters to your old girlfriend and never call her. You can’t just use a machine to heal people when there are other humans who can do it better.

      On Thu, Oct 8, 2020 at 12:52 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I will have to watch this movie. While not mumble core I am getting similar vibes – conversation heavy where nothing changes.

        I can relate to what that person whom you met was telling. My favorite thing to do is nothing at all. I can just look at the ceiling for hours together. I always have a tough time explaining what it is just to stare at a wall. Then I found that the Dutch have a concept called niksen and now I tell people that is what I am doing.

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        • Yes, I think you might really like it.

          And I know you don’t truly just like to do nothing, because you have been telling us what you were doing here! Like, if you were on that call, you would say “I like just doing nothing for a long time, but also I’ve really been getting into mumble core films and trying to watch as many as I can and learn about the genre”. You aren’t doing nothing-nothing.

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          • Well I agree that I am doing something or the other. What I meant to say is I can sit doing nothing and not get bored or fidgety. So in the larger context my statement will be untrue but for parts of the day it is totally true. And yes I am still continuing on my mumble core journey but I am not coming across too many films in that genre.

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          • I think what this movie is showing is that there is peace is sitting quietly with yourself, in the small moments of the day. But you need some sort of greater something to give all those small moments meaning, something you are getting peace from, if that makes sense. Anyway, you should watch the movie! Definitely!

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  3. No, the boringness is the point. Because when you’re isolated from life and society for an indefinite amount of time, how do you make your life matter and how do you stay human (demon, but you know what I mean). I do think the reincarnation aspect does not add much to it compared to similar media.

    This is what I meant when I said it was a lot like MST3K, and both were inspired by Cool Running. There’s a lot in the sets etc. to suggest both but I’d really have to watch Cool Running again to see what came from which. There was also Lost in Space but I haven’t watched that. It had some similar themes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • YES! Okay, I was wondering how MST3K tied in, and that makes total sense. It’s about finding joy, connection, purpose, even if you are in a place with no purpose, you can still invent one. And that is a universal human story, I think. I mean, prisoners training guard dogs. Pre-school kids being given special projects. People during the pandemic learning how to knit. None of it “matters” exactly, but when you are in a place where almost nothing ever changes, you need at least one area of growth.

      There’s an author, Daniel Pinkwater, who I really like. In one of his memoir-y books, he talks about when he had a summer job working at a factory. Horrible mind-deadening work. And what he did was memorize a poem every day. Which kept him sane to the point that his supervisor called him in to speak with him, because the other workers were finding it disturbing how happy he seemed.

      On Thu, Oct 8, 2020 at 1:16 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • That’s exactly it. It’s why you have to live with the characters and experience it. MST3K did this with the conceit of checking in in real time every week, so you’re sharing this guy’s life.

        Even more than the TV series I think Cargo was like MST3K fanfiction, because that often deals with what happens when another human shows up. That was a weird feeling.

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  4. Immediately, stylistically I fell in love with the film. The future as it looked to those in the past. Spaceship communication on a clunky old TV screen. Giant dials and switches and everything with it’s bright stripe of blue. Meanwhile earth, looks just like it does today (well it is placed just 7 years in the future) cell phones are just like they are in 2020. I think, because I was so wrapped up in the style, the world, that I never had that sense of waiting for something to happen. I was along for the stroll in someone elses dream land. I was glad there was no love story. I didn’t think the violent dead dude was done well, mostly because he didn’t seem very violent, just off, and come on, wouldn’t lots of people be violent if they found out they were dead. The people calmly following orders, and agreeing not to make those phone calls… if it weren’t so other worldy stylistically I never would have bought into that. Also, I loved that the heroine looked normal. Cute, sweet, normal. ANd that manual shredder. A space ship with a manual shredder. I wonder if I can convince my husband to watch it.

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    • Yes! The style is amazing. And now that I think about it, the details of the style kind of help bring you to the meditative state the filmmakers want. You are focused on small details, looking at little things not big picture. It sort of drops you to a focused calm place, like a focusing on your breathing technique, or looking at a meditation picture, or whatever.

      I love that the heroine looked normal, and also WAS normal. She was delightfully regular. Talked to her little brother, liked listening to pop music, not some magical special person, but just a person.

      On Thu, Oct 8, 2020 at 1:36 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. The beauty of this film reminds me of Charulata.The entire movie works because there is a strong sense of isolation and monotony,which reflects in the screenplay,the pace and the soundtrack.One of the things that made me admire Charulata(despite not knowing Bengali and relying on blurred subtitles)was how everything was monotonous and painfully slow,as a woman might have felt about her restrictive life.Similarly I had little experience of experimental futuresque drama but Cargo works by sticking to a very human,universal emotion of a certain bleakness in life,with a few rays of sunshine that might just be our perspective.Compounded with the sense of isolation and a feeling of being an unproductive soul trapped in a muddy vesture of decay during the pandemic lockdown,Cargo feels uncomfortably real,and heartwarming at the same time.It is realistic not like a bitter pill for insomniacs,but like a warm cup of cocoa after a day of toil.That eerie emotion of feeling low despite nothing bad happening to you but just being stuck in a loop is what the film captures in the sweetest way.It is almost like a futuresque rendition of a Alfred Tennyson poem,albeit using a scifi setting instead of the turn of the century to explore those thoughts.It almost feels like the movie was made during the lockdown.
    I might be wrong,but is Vikrant Massey from the same show in which Sushant used to star?I remember seeing him somewhere,then he was on a break,then returned with a bang in movies.I can’t figure out where I saw him.

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  6. Pingback: Cargo Review (SPOILERS): If Death Does Not Matter, Does Life? – Kisafilms.com

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