If you love films that make ‘sense’, Abba T Makama’s dazzling sophomore The Lost Okoroshi is not meant for you. You need to immerse and wallow yourself in the film for you to grasp its sense. And don’t be disappointed if you don’t grasp the meaning. Just enjoy it, because ‘understanding is not synonymous with enjoying’.
The Lost Okoroshi is a beautiful theatre piece that exists for the Nigerian audience that does not exist. Too many Nigerian audiences believe the film is mind-rambling and confusing. That’s an insult to the efforts that are put into the film. The film inculcates a stage play experience into filmmaking. That’s possible because Makama’s co-writer Africa Ukoh is a theatre scholar. The mumblecore film is a clothesline for cultural invocations, philosophy, and aesthetics. It applies a surreal approach to its analysis of the human condition, cultural degradation, and the caustic effects of civilization on traditional cultural practices.
Uninhibited, confident, and adventurous, the world Makama creates in his films are completely familiar, and yet entirely unfamiliar. His films are nightmarish renditions of reality that borders on the Nigerian dream. It’s also worthy of note to note that Makama digs into philosophical lightheartedness and emotional overthrow in his films. Watching Makama’s films, one will notice his unique storylines and visual pattern. His works, just like that of his collective, are surreal (Isn’t that why they called themselves The Surreal Collective?). His debut feature, Green White Green, is a self-discovery journey in which three teenagers, who are dreamers and schemers, find happiness in their dreams, albeit with some major setbacks. Notably in The Lost Okoroshi, Makama’s surrealism becomes glaring. The film is Kafkaesque, or Lynchian. The first quote in the film sums up nicely what the film is all about. It’s about a disillusioned man named Raymond (Seun Ajayi) who, after being severely pursued by the Okoroshi in a series of nightmares, awakens from one dream donning the costume of his main pursuer, a figure with an Okoroshi mask draped in purple-dyed raffia. Both movies are satire but are well ingrained in Makama’s surrealism.
“Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse,” said Sophocles many years ago. Shortly after his transformation to the Okoroshi masquerade, instead of being revered and worshipped, the masquerade becomes a pop culture iconography that everyone wants to package, monetize, and own. Willy Willy (Ejetareme Ajotubu Micheal) wants to commercialize and monetize it. “Let’s sit down and talk business. Business,” he says after witnessing the Okoroshi dancing in the streets and making a reasonable sum of money. He would later add that “We will shake the whole town. We will make lots of money”. The Igbo People Secret Society of Heritage Restoration and Reclamation, that’s supposed to be the custodian of the Okoroshi, are bickering over its ownership, and where it should dwell. We would later see the Okoroshi desolated before he is gruesomely murdered by the dreadful and formidable street kingpin, Jagar.
The film is rich and undeniably interwoven in terms of symbolism. Though I was sometimes skeptical about the film’s storyline and ethos, I was moved towards the third quarter of the film. It’s not just the film’s protagonist that transforms from human to masquerade. As it progresses, The Lost Okoroshi transforms from a surreal drama film into a psychological thriller with a decent twist and ending. Its surreal final act is not what most people expected, but it’s also one that I think works on a foundation of very relatable human emotion.
The alterity of Makama’s films needs to be applauded. There are always flights of ingenuity in his art and that’s commendable. While other Nigerian filmmakers would have let the Okoroshi be formidable, Makama strips the masquerade off its occult power and makes it vulnerable. Where other filmmakers will demonize the Okoroshi, and pitch it in a battle with the Christian religion, Makama exhorts the ancient masquerade by making it a modern-day superhero whose death comes from the hands of a mortal but formidable street kingpin.
Though the film blithely handles some serious issues, it’s more of an exposé of reasons. An example is a sordid treatment Okonkwo (Chiwetalu Agu) receives from the factory he worked for after being injured by the factory’s outdated machines. Having been fired and abandoned to suffer, Okonkwo would later commit suicide. Before his transformation into the Okoroshi, in a typical Nigerian security manner, Raymond and a co-worker always spend their days hailing the company’s staff, ogle at the women who pass by and secretly jeer at the smartphone-zombies who hurry through the company’s entrance hall without looking up. Likewise, there’s a scene that shows how a sex worker is abused and maltreated by a man. The scene is a slight discourse on how some Nigerian men harass and abused sex workers. And while teleporting around the city, the Okoroshi witnesses some of the city’s despondency: pollution, poverty, and violent crime. With that, the film’s joke is on us. In fact, it’s laughing at us.
The film’s ending is unpredictable. It’s not what the audience expected. But it’s inevitable and effective all the same. The film is not about the death of the Okoroshi but what happened after the death of the Okoroshi. Fundamentally the death of the Okoroshi is meant to stir a discussion on the dissension between traditional cultural practices and civilization. That’s why Makama bookends the film with some images of a menagerie of wildly costumed performers to push his agenda.
The Lost Okoroshi is a funny but dark exploration of the dissension between civilization and traditional cultural practices. It’s a cinema of the cryptic that attempts to shake up our perceptions of taste in the Nigerian cinema and resolves our longstanding social dilemma.