Caught by the River

Magnetic Reconnection

Lara C Cory | 23rd April 2016

Magnetic Reconnection: A film by Kyle Armstrong
Review by Lara C Cory


Magnetic Reconnection is a film by Canadian film maker Kyle Armstrong in collaboration with Dr Trond S. Trondsen, known for developing cutting edge auroral imaging systems. Magnetic Reconnection features a narrative by Will Oldham and a score written by Jim O’Rourke.

Considered to contain some of the best footage of the aurora borealis to date, Magnetic Reconnection however, is not really about the elusive northern lights. Armstrong’s short film is about the complex relationships between science nature and humanity, and the way we try and fail to use science to conquer our natural world. In an interview, Armstrong explains the reason he chose to shoot in Churchill, Manitoba a Canadian town on the Hudson Bay famous for its polar bear activity, “In more populated areas we bury our technological mistakes and failings, but the glory of the north is things are all left out in the open to erode and decay, a process of nature.”

The theme of decay and “nature stripping away elaborate attempts to conquer” forms the prominent theme throughout. Armstrong utilises not only the message but the medium to reflect the relatively fleeting nature of science and technology and the overwhelming power of nature to undermine the man-made world. Scratched and degraded film footage crackles and stutters over wintry landscapes and cruises with crystal clarity over a plane carcass, the rusting skeleton of one of Mussolini’s ships, glistening snow drifts and star-filled night skies.


The film’s title refers to a complicated plasma physics model that scientists still struggle to understand. Magnetic reconnection is when magnetic fields connect and disconnect, and is thought to be responsible for the auroras and almost all of the activity we observe in space.

Beginning his narrative with a poem by the innovative British poet and Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins that speaks of humanity that ‘will flame out like shining from shook foil’ compared to the everlasting depth and beauty of nature; Oldham’s voice exudes vulnerability and fated understanding.

Jim O’Rourke’s score to the ten minute documentary equals the ebullient lustre of the northern lights. Eerie loops and reverberations mimic the vast and inhospitable landscape contrasting with phrases that resonate with mystery and delicate beauty.

Available to buy for as little as £1.38 on Vimeo, Magnetic Reconnection is well worth what little time and money it requires from the viewer.

God’s Grandeur, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.