Though deceivingly similar in their structure and sound, the concepts of loneliness and being alone are completely different. The distinguishing feature between the two is often the element of choice. We choose to be alone, isolating ourselves from the outside world when we need a moment to breath or a beat to reflect. But to be lonely is another story entirely. In his brief yet striking documentary, “Quiet Hours,” Paul Szynol softly captures the concept of “loneliness” through sound, image and color, demonstrating its quiet grief as a tiresome burden.
Donald Hall is an 80-something widower living alone in a house seeping with nostalgia of memories past. An American Poet Laureate, National Medal of Arts winner and former University professor, Hall is far past his glory days and put on vulnerable display for all to see. The film is composed of a mixture of flashbacks, juxtaposing Hall’s former life in the literary spotlight with his current day-to-day routines of mild aerobic exercise, grocery trips accompanied by one of his several female caretakers and painful reminiscence over his deceased wife and lifelong love, Jane Kenyon.
The back-and-forth between moments of the past and present have the intended effect of filling the viewer with a sense of sullenness and almost-pity for Hall. Hall’s acknowledgement of his wife’s passing 20 years prior is paired with a numb sense of acceptance that he will never find real light or joy again. This mood of numbness and gloom is intensified through the prominence of blues and greys in the film’s color palate and a minimal soundtrack. In fact, the main source of sound in the film, other than Hall’s own voice, comes from the repetitive dripping of a faucet, a figurative, blinking reminder that just as the tap continues to drip unceasingly, Hall will never move on from his wife’s passing.
The one line of the film that best expresses its entirety is when Hall remarks that, “old age is a ceremony of losses.” The film is short, a mere 14 minutes long, yet it somehow manages to thoroughly personify this quote, crafting a strong sense of profundity and sympathy within viewers. Watching Hall onscreen, we can’t help but ponder the looming threat, not of aging, but of aging without companionship or love or something dear to us. By showcasing a man who has had so much success and joy in his life in such a solemn light, Syznol urges audiences to consider the “quiet place” that loneliness has the power to create within us all.