‘Nobody Knows I’m Here’ – On Escapism and Feeling Seen

 

There is a verse in the titular song from Gaspar Antillo’s 2020 slow-burn drama Nobody Knows I’m Here, that goes as follows:

“Here I lie and watch the stars, feel I’m dreaming all my life. Here’s the love I forgot, my heart’s dancing glow. Something’s wrong, I don’t belong.”

It’s the heartbreaking, intimate ballad that both liberates Memo (Jorge Garcia & Lukas Vergara), and forces him into seclusion. It’s a song about desperately wanting to be seen, but being rendered invisible. This invisibility is what follows Memo as he navigates his quiet life post-childhood stardom in his uncle’s (Luis Gnecco) remote farm in Chile. 

You see Memo was a star, or he was supposed to be one but didn’t fit the right “look”. Memo is a chubby kid, and despite his breathtaking voice, sparkly DIY coats and charisma, he’s rejected because of his size. The record company that Memo’s father tries to sign him with argues that he’s not marketable, that “the product is a look”, and it’s one that he doesn’t fit into. Memo isn’t  “heartthrob” material. So instead the music producer buys the rights to his song and his voice; and makes Angelo Casas (Gaston Pauls & Vicente Alvarez), the face of stardom because he’s thin and fits the “look” that they’re going for. 

This results in a wave of anger that bottles up and erupts in a fit of rage, where Memo pushes Angelo off stage during a live performance. The would-be childhood star is torn apart by the media, and fans of Angelo all across Chile come together to support the star they think has the magical voice. The severe backlash from the Chilean public is what leaves Memo with nowhere to go except his uncle’s remote farm, where he spends the rest of his childhood and early adulthood tending to animals, sheep shearing and fishing. Isolation and Loneliness play a large role in this film, they surround Memo. From the vast forest to the lake in front of his uncle’s farm which almost resembles a moat in front of a castle; it all comes together to sever him from the outside world. A world that doesn’t seem to want him, that can’t seem to understand his presence. 

Within the first 30 minutes of Nobody Knows I’m Here, Memo makes his way into the forest, where he dawns a sequin adorned cape that he sewed himself, and he begins to dance. The forest turns into a stage where Memo glows with soft pink light, and the music swells as he moves his body. This happens quite often throughout the movie — Memo will step into a room or head out into nature and he’s suddenly enveloped in this beautiful pink light — and then proceeds to perform the song that was stolen from him. This is how Memo copes with the pain from his past and the loneliness of the present. It’s not too far from how many of us watch movies and tv to cope with our emotions and realities.  Slipping into daydreams, whether from our own minds or on screen is a shared experience. 

I want to talk to you about escapism, and what happens when escapism doesn’t want you. To have a bigger body is to be hyper-visible and invisible  at the same time. Hyper visible because of your size, and invisible because you rarely see yourself on screen. Even when we’re not visible at all, we’ve still mentioned through jokes made at our expense, and fatphobic remarks.  Most of the representations of fat/plus-size characters I grew up with felt almost alien to me, fat/plus-size bodies were never bodies; they were spectacles. There’s a loneliness in seeing your body poked and prodded at, framed as either undesirable or hyper-sexual, with no in between, no nuance or complexity. It’s loneliness I liken to a scene where Memo stands in his room by himself and looks out the window to the world in front of him. Like looking through a movie screen.  

In the second act, Memo becomes overwhelmed by the fact that his new friend Marta (Millaray Lobos) finds out that he’s the child who pushed Angelo off-stage; and through a flashback, we’re shown that the fall damaged Angelo’s legs permanently, the severity of Angelo’s injuries is what causes the Chilean public to shun Memo. Marta’s knowledge of this stings especially because he allowed himself to be open and vulnerable, even letting her record a video of him singing. The frustration and shame culminate, and in another magical realist scene, Memo collapses in his room and begins to vomit glitter. The hurt of letting someone in literally pours out of him, coating the floor with a dark pink shimmer.

The video of Memo singing is leaked by Marta’s friend Sergio (Nelson Brodt), and Memo is only made aware of this when his estranged father comes to tell him. Memo and his uncle live in almost complete isolation from the outside world, before meeting Marta, Memo had never used a smartphone or the internet before. In a way, this is representative of how Memo is stuck in his past.  The Chilean public doesn’t take kindly to the video, interpreting it as an insult to Angelo; and the sudden influx of hate and news reporters hiding in bushes hoping to catch a glimpse of the recluse takes an emotional toll on Memo. He’s unwillingly made into a spectacle again, and through an abrupt transition, we’re shown that the emotions are too much to handle, so Memo burns his sequin adorned cape as a way to shed away the person he once was.

 Nobody Knows I’m Here, at the core, is a story about a man learning to open up and allow himself to feel. What strikes me about Memo’s story is that his weight is never framed as something for him to overcome, it’s his feelings of inadequacy. Memo is invited to a talk show to confront Angelo Casas, decades after the incident. Upon arriving, it’s made abundantly clear that Angelo won’t admit to being a fraud, even after all these years. He goes so far as to ask Memo not to sing, knowing that if he does, the public will know it was him all these years. Memo does so anyway, frustrated from all the years of having to bear the brunt of harassment from Angelo and the public. He gets up from his seat and belts out “Nobody Knows I’m Here”, the pink light comes back to him, he’s finally able to open up. 

I come back to something the music producer said to Memo’s father: “Relax, I’ll find this voice a body”. The voice has a body, and that body belongs to Memo. The song doesn’t feel the same when it’s sung by Angelo, and this story wouldn’t feel the same without Jorge Garcia playing this role. After Memo finally tells his truth, he goes to visit Marta and he lays in her bed while she holds him. This final scene is what made me fall in love with this film. After watching so many movies where fatness is portrayed as a problem or something to overlook, seeing Memo being fully embraced for every part of himself feels like finally being able to breathe. A body, just like a person, does not need to be fixed or overlooked, poked or prodded at. It needs warmth, understanding, love and to be seen. In my time spent trying to find media that feels reassuring, nothing has comforted me quite like Nobody Knows I’m Here. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s