By: Hawk Ripjaw (Two Beers) –
The House of Latitude is “an international, extratemporal membership society, which through fellowship transcends ordinary human limitation.” The brainchild of the independently wealthy Jeff Hull, it started as an augmented reality game around the San Francisco before erupting into a deeply devoted secret club before collapsing under heavy expenses.
The group practices what they call “absolute discretion,” in which the members vow not to share anything with anyone. Membership into the House of Latitude is granted when an existing member decides to bring someone else into the society, by giving them a card. From there, the inductee must follow a series of clues hidden in the world before they get to join the group. Once in, they can invite others, and participate in parties, lectures, and gatherings. It sounds like a cult or a pyramid scheme, but it was envisioned as a way for members to work with each other, and break out of their perceived shells and shortcomings to realize their potential. It sounded too good to be true, but for a while, it was perfect.
One of the coolest parts of the movie is seeing how the clues and elements of the House of Latitude are hidden in a locked room, in the corner of a parking lot, or in plain sight if you’re not looking for them. This scratches a specific itch of augmented reality games such Ingress on smartphones. I spent significant hours of my college weekends running around Greeley, CO exploring Ingress, pulling over on the highway to capture an area, and coordinating excursions with friends. I also ran into other players during these times and made new friends. There’s something really exciting and special to be in plain sight and experience something alongside other friends and strangers, and it’s part of the allure of the House of Latitude.
The film is punctuated by shots through doorways, interesting interviews and experiences, and many of them are accented by odd CGI effects that enhance the trippy existence of the House. Reality bleeds into fantasy as director Spencer McCall portrays some of the wackier elements of induction with some artistic license, and it really makes one want to learn more about what this ambitious and creative project actually did.
While there is plenty to unpack here, the House’s core tenet of Absolute Discretion remains in place. We get fringe details of the group’s beliefs, but the amount of content approved for the film seems to have been heavily policed. Some of the actual meat of the society is fragmented and unclear–even a couple of interviewees grow slightly hostile towards director Spencer McCall and his apparent intent to wrestle a narrative out of these events. There’s not much of a sense of timeline and some of the interviewees’ responses don’t quite feel like they match up to the events at hand.
A major talking point in the film is the Latitude Society’s struggles with funding and paying for its parties and events. At its apex, Hull was spending thousands of dollars every week just to keep the group running. At that point he considered a monthly fee, which resulted in revolt from the members. The back third of the film is mostly focused on this subject, which feels like a hard turn out of the preceding movie’s vibe.
In Bright Axiom is a fascinating “docu-fantasy” that has a number of different ideas working for it. It’s at its most engrossing when the intoxicating visuals and music intermingle with the members of the Society excitedly talk about their own feelings with being a part of this group. Other times, it feels like we’re still missing elements. Whether this is due to Absolute Discretion, or some other dearth of facts, it distracts from the dreamlike experience of the rest of the film.
Ultimately, this functions best as a companion piece to the multitude of other think-pieces and accounts on Latitude. It activates an appetite for the sort of augmented reality project that Latitude was, and opens up a rabbit hole down the group’s practices. But as its own thing, it’s only partially satisfying.
In Bright Axiom (2019) Movie Drinking Game
Do a Shot: every time the camera passes through a door.
Take a Drink: whenever “Absolute Discretion” is said or seen.
Take a Drink: whenever someone says “In Bright Axiom”
Take a Drink: for every trippy animated sequence.