“It’s better to eat porridge together than filet mignon alone.” These are the wise words of Birger: middle-aged, divorced and hopelessly lonely in a Stockholm suburb. The year is 1975.
In Together, Lukas Moodysson’s 2000 feature, Birger is one of several outsiders cautiously bearing witness to a new way of living. Joining him is an awkward thirteen-year-old boy, donning nightly binoculars to spy on his irreverent neighbours, the collective on which the film casts its primary gaze. Together centres around a suburban commune living in dysfunctional harmony, taking in strays—some willingly, some not—arguing, cooking chickpea stews, pontificating, sometimes loving. When the phone rings, the ever-optimistic commune leader Göran answers: “Together.”
The early 2000s were a boon for 1970s nostalgia, the whitewashing of hazy, late hippie-era days fervent in the public imagination. Elsewhere, in America, Cameron Crowe’s 2000 film Almost Famous follows a similar script. The character William inhabits the voyeur role, this film’s neighbour boy, accompanying a band and its entourage on tour in 1973 as an adolescent journalist. And in the role of Birger, we have the rock critic Lester Bangs who, despite his proximity to collectives, has ended up isolated in an apartment with music as his only consistent company.
Both Together and Almost Famous offer criticism of the cult of the collective while also highlighting the importance of togetherness, foreshadowing the alienation of the 2000s.
Take Göran, who’s in an open relationship with his girlfriend, Lena. For different reasons, both characters suffer under their free love arrangement. Göran, the less keen participant, finds his love unrequited as Lena pursues a fellow flatmate, cruelly rubbing the fling in his face. And Lena, desperate to break the monogamy taboo and not end up like her mother, finds herself alone, kicked out of the commune after pushing Göran a step too far. For all of its liberated virtues, the commune in Together is constantly on the verge of breaking up. Members leave, couples split, trust is destroyed. Even within such an explicit community, loneliness looms on the horizon.
Almost Famous projects a similar fate. Take Penny Lane, the film’s queen groupie (or as she calls herself, band-aid): ever sought after by rockstars, roadies and sleazy managers who use her for fun, sex, love or a backstage pass. Even her loyal crew of band-aids abandon her when more lucrative opportunities arise. The band and its entourage have their moments of unity—singing together on a bus or laughing during a radio show gone wrong—but these flashpoints are overshadowed by bickering, flagrant displays of jealousy and dreams of self-improvement that feel closer to millennial mores than hippie idealism, though perhaps that’s precisely the point.
A desperate mission to self-optimise haunts both films. Rockstar Jeff waxes poetic about the power of music but seems primarily interested in growing his own fame. Marxist Erik rejects his bourgeois past to daylight as a welder and radicalises the commune, but storms off in a strop whenever his credibility is questioned. For these characters and others, changing the world isn’t so much the prerogative as changing themselves is, and these journeys toward self-actualisation are frequently wrapped up in narcissism, greed and ultimately: loneliness.
At the turn of the millennium and a symbolic new era, pop culture sought comfort by retreating into 70s aesthetics, going beyond just a soft spot for dad rock and shag coats. In both films, collectivism is not much more than a cover for disjointed humanity. Human beings float like satellites, silent and lonely in the orbit of their own egos. Today we often hear tech blamed for this sort of satellite humanity, but these films posit that perhaps the blueprint was always there.