It only took her entire graduate career, but we finally got Katy to present us a film at movie night.  Her choice was one that opens up new doors towards what will likely be a major player in film going forward – the Netflix Original film.  (Though from looking things up, it does appear the film was released in theaters in the UK and Ireland, interestingly enough.)  The film in question is Andrew Niccol‘s triple-role 2018 film Anon.  I kind of figured that the writer/director/producer of a primarily online-distributed film might be a fresh name, but it turns out that Niccol has had a pretty decent (and sci-fi heavy) career, starting with writing and directing Gattaca, he has triple-roled four other films, most notably S1m0ne and Lord Of War, and he also wrote/produced The Truman Show and The Terminal.  So…a bit of a hell of a résumé, actually.

But before the feature, Katy did pick out a short – 2016’s A Social Life directed by Kerith Lemon.  Here it is:

 

This is your standard morality play where the moral is that living any sort of life in the real world is better than living out a lie on social media.  I almost hate to say this, but I think that the story presents perhaps a too facile exaggeration of social media addiction to make an overbroad point.  I think there’s going to be a lot said about the intersection of social media and “real life” for a while, but in the end I think we’ll recognize that social media will have been (has already been?) subsumed into real life the same way that telephones and automobiles and the printing press were, and under new pressures in the future even social media will either evolve or die out.  Just like everything else.  In the end, the misuse of social media, like the misuse of so many other things, probably devolves more on the user than on the technology.  To be fair A Social Life uses a completely in-camera narrator and as such doesn’t make any real judgments, but I think that it nonetheless makes some judgments easy to jump to.

That’s not terribly unlike the feature presentation – one of the most notable aspects of Anon, as I saw it, is how easily it directs your sympathies to exactly the wrong parties.

Our Lady Of The Google Glass

Anon shoves us into a “next Sunday, A.D.” world where we are asked to accept what is evidently the following, unspoken premise: All humans are implanted with both retinal implants and in-eye cameras (and, to be consistent, both cochlear implants and in-ear microphones).  These implants allow a very detailed enhanced reality – one’s vision is constantly peppered with overlays detailing the identity of people and objects.  At the same time, every single bit of one’s life is harvested and held in some yottabyte cloud by the powers that be.  While this is a pretty massive invasion of one’s privacy, the tradeoff is that it’s pretty difficult to pull off crimes.  The government is quoted in the film as saying something along the lines of “transparency is safety”, though there’s a Benjamin Franklin quote out there that might offer a counter to this point of view.

Dude Descending Staircase

Despite the idea that it would be hard to commit crimes in a society so built, it turns out that there is still a sort of police force or crime investigation department, and Sal Frieland (Clive Owen) is a top-ranking member.  It kind of seems like a dead-end job, really.  He has pretty much unlimited access to other people’s data (you know, like everything they’ve ever seen), but that does make the task of investigating it all pretty routine.

See, the trick is to get your name legally changed to “Unknown – Error” to open up the vulnerabilities in the system

But if something can go wrong, it will, and if you think your all-encompassing cloud-based computer system will never be hacked, well guess again.  Sal’s first inkling that something is amiss comes when he’s walking down the street and sees an “unidentified” person (Amanda Seyfried) – something which should never happen.  Later, it turns out that his “memory” of this scene is actually wiped from the cloud, preventing him from re-accessing it.  This clear eyebrow raiser comes at the same time that several unusual murders are committed – the victims, instead of seeing their murderer, have had their retinae hacked so that they see their own murder from the killer’s point of view.  Not only is this extremely disorienting to the victim, but it also hides the identity of the killer.

If you’re covertly projecting a picture of JLaw over me, I will be SO pissed

This of course presents a difficult challenge to a department used to straightforward investigations.  A team is assembled, and some sleuthing suggests that all of the victims have taken advantage of a hacker’s ability to erase parts of their data to cover up various crimes or dalliances, and it is believed that the hacker in question is also the killer – collecting cash for services and then erasing the only witnesses to the hacking.  Sal is tasked with playing a cat-and-mouse game, luring the hacker to perform some services for him, first to erase an encounter with a prostitute to hide it from his fianceé and then to erase the purchase of some cocaine.  And of course, it turns out that the hacker in question was the girl who he had seen come up unidentified earlier on.

In the future, all hacking looks like a combination of cubism and architecture

During their second encounter, the hacker figures Sal out as a cop, and evidently murders Sal’s partner (who was doing surveillance in an adjacent room) before getting away.  At this point, the hacker starts jacking Sal’s retinae so frequently that he’s not really sure what is real and what is not, and he is taken off of duty (and even surveilled) while he tries to prove that the hacker girl, whom he has fallen for, is innocent.  Of course, as it turns out he’s right, and the real killer was an inside man, another member of the team and über-hacker who is caught (OK, actually killed) by Sal after he not-so-clearly explains his plan, which had something to do with stalking the girl hacker.  And of course, we get a poignant farewell between Sal and the girl where she says, “It’s not that I have something to hide. I have nothing I want you to see.”  The end.

The big problem with the film is that while the setup and the premise make sense, the plot really doesn’t.  At the end, it’s not really clear how the whole thing came together, why the villain did what he did.  It’s pretty unforgivable the more the movie sits with me.  No matter how well you execute your premise, if you can’t give me a decent story to go along with it, it becomes forgettable.

That said, the film does a pretty good job of executing its premise.  I think my favorite aspect of that is that with all of their enhancements, people are able to make “phone calls” to one another.  This seems relatively natural, until you realize that there should be no camera with the appropriate point of view to transmit the video portion of the call.  Then you realize that every time someone makes a call, they look into a mirror, giving their own camera a view of themselves for transmission.  That is really clever, and shows some of the thought that went into making this world real.  Sal defeats his surveillance at one point by simply pretending to go to sleep, closing his eyes, and then sneaking out with his eyes closed.  But, at the same time, when his retinae start getting jacked and he can’t tell reality from illusion – why not, say, close your eyes?  Anything you still see?  That’s fake!

There are of course some other aspects of future-world that get swept under the rug – what’s the nature of the technology, why is everybody implanted, when are they implanted – but in a modern movie you don’t feel compelled to explain where cars come from, so I don’t think that’s such a big deal.  It’s just the way it is.  On the other hand, it seems like there’s human GPS tracking that really only works when it’s convenient for the plot, so there is that.

Another fun bit is that the movie is really well-designed to get you to sympathize with the Big Brother government.  Sure, the whole permanent surveillance thing is scary, but these are the good guys!  They’re doing their jobs!  They’re trying to catch a murderer, who is obviously the bad guy.  And of course, the alleged murderer is really nothing but a person who wants to live off the grid – and effectively, the real hero of the situation, if not the film.  It’s only at the very end that the movie comes out and tells you, “yeah, you really shouldn’t have been rooting for the Big Brother dudes, what were you thinking?”  Fortunately for us, the technology here is pretty far off.

Anyway, as a journey as opposed to a destination, it’s a pretty good film.  But the lack of destination here is…glaring.