Friday, November 5, 2010

Touching From A Distance

Thomas In Love(2000)
Directed By Pieere-Paul Renders
Thomas In Love is the story of an agoraphobic man in the not too distant future, who has not left his home in several years.
The film is a fist person point of view account of his life which he spends staring at a screen that has video-chat, virtual reality, Internet, and television all built into one.
Why bother with the outside world at all?

The film opens with Thomas having virtual sex with an avatar (not the blue ones) he created himself from all his favorite features of a woman.

The fx, which weren’t state of the art, when this was made, do look like a bit cheap and fake, but we get the idea that Thomas enjoys it.

Enjoyment however has begun to yield diminishing returns and Thomas’ therapist suggests he try having virtual sex with a live person.

The company which provides Thomas’s insurance has a division of corporate “escorts” who provide just such a service.

Thomas surfs through a sea of faces until he crosses a woman who is crying, though she composes herself as soon as she realizes she is on camera, it’s too late.

Thomas is smitten. Not smitten with her tears or the image of a woman crying, as she fears, but fascinated with the first genuine human emotion he’s seen expressed.

She wants’ nothing to do with him, and he tries an Internet dating site, getting a few windows minimized in his face, once he gets to the all crucial “I haven’t left my home in 8 years, and human contact terrifies me” part of the relationship.

It only get’s worse when he meets a girl willing to “experiment” with him, and by worse I mean skin crawlingly embarrassing and sad.

The kind of crushing and all-consuming pathetic that almost made me turn the film off.

Instead of the eye-roll inducing sentiments about alienation in the digital era (and there was a fair amount) I had expected, what I found a little over half way in, was actually a clever, gut knotting, little melodrama about loneliness, shyness, that was bolstered by it’s fantastic elements without being witholden to them.

“Thomas In Love” is now ten years old, and aside from some futuristic costume choices, doesn’t really have to be said to exist in “the future” at all.

Nearly all of the technologies present in the film already exist in some fashion today.

Mexico’s “Sleep Dealer” also cleverly (and likewise on the cheap) created a world from existing ideas and devices, but failed itself, by focusing too much on its false world and not enough on its characters, which for a film of its budget and pacing, is what would have needed to happen to be successful.

We never see Thomas, until a brief reflection at the end of the film, but remaining in the closed POV world creates the feeling of being immobile and trapped, and any interruption onscreen a thankful escape, a sensation closer to the character’s own experience than any dialogue could bring us (most films which deal with a mental disability usually give us little more than some textbook quotations and shitty cardboard dream sequences.)

Other films like “Enter The Void” and “Lady In The Lake” have made the same use of the first person structure, but I think only in “Thomas” where the world has been replaced completely by static screens (and screens within screens) does it for the first time feel completely natural.

Natural because this world is our world. The final segment of the anthology film Tokyo!” featured a very similar story of an agoraphobic man, but that’s story emphasized the overcrowding of the city itself more than the emotions of its protagonist.

“Thomas In Love” is a romance, one with a few Orwellian and Huxley-esque ideas at its base, but a romance nonetheless.

What I responded to in the film was that what relationship the film does depict is an utter failure, the type of thing that could make anyone want to swear off human contact and retreat to the safety of their cyber harem, while the relationship Thomas wants, is one that is out of his league, physically, financially, emotionally, legally, and to anyone with eyes and ears, a general bad move.

But locked into the film like we are, we grow to crave Thomas’ escape, even if takes him a hundred times to be able to take more than a few steps away from his doorway without passing out, we get the sense by the end of the film he would make those steps, no matter how Sisyphus like his quest may be.

Not because he has learned the lesson of love, or because the agoraphobia was all just “in his head”, but because there is literally no other option, the way back no longer being any way at all.

The ending is obvious in some ways, I will concede, but it’s also sincere, not sincere in a fashion that would produce a grand monologue or speech that would change everything or anything, but sincere like catching a glimpse of someone trying to hold back their emotions in public.

A kind of sincerity that seeps through the skin and the screen, no matter who tries to hide it or where.

No comments: