“Controller” A Short Film Review

Hey, so, it’s been awhile. My apologies for that, but keeping up with a blog can be hard to do. Unfortunately I’ve also been woefully unproductive since the publication of my last short story. I have been setting aside time to work on my novel, but for the last week or so I haven’t been able to turn that time into anything productive. Usually I just sit around, write a few sentences, and then run out of time and have to do something else.

Anyway, enough of this writer’s block tragedy.

Recently I’ve been seeing a lot of sci-fi short films pop up on my Facebook Feed, courtesy of io9. I figured I could share some of these films and my thoughts on them here, especially for those of you who do not follow io9 or just happened to miss these specific posts. Because I’m impatient, we’re actually going to skip the whole “save the best for last” mentality and jump right into my favorite one. Naturally this means you don’t have to read any of the other films reviews I post after this one.

Of the sci-fi short films I’ve mentioned, a movie called Controller, written and directed by Saman Kesh, is easily my favorite. The movie focuses on a young man who is being controlled by his girlfriend to come rescue her, and so he storms the headquarters of the company to find and free her, utilizing fighting moves executed remotely by her thoughts. The film is a Taiwanese sci-fi film with a feel and atmosphere that is somewhat reminiscent of Akira or similar animes, which is to say big evil government/corporation, strange and unexplained science/fantasy element that government is trying to control, yada yada. There is also a prequel to the film called I_U that I think is worth watching as a follow up. It provides a little more background and insight into the relationship of the characters featured in Controller.

There are a lot of things that I find make this film appealing, but I won’t waste time talking about lighting or cinematography or other aspects of film making that I don’t know a ton about. Instead, I’ll focus on some of the narrative elements that I like here. I don’t know that there are any serious spoilers ahead, but I do reveal some things. Honestly, if you haven’t watched the movie at this point, you should probably just do it. Go ahead. It’s not very long. The text will still be here when you get back…

So, now that you’re done with that, the first thing I really like about Controller is its use of flashbacks. I love flashback sequences in writing, and I think you can get an idea of that from the published short stories I have in my Writing section. I have other stories that are unpublished or works-in-progress that utilize flashbacks even more as well. I love how Kesh takes advantage of his medium to display the story between the two lovers in quick flashbacks that seamlessly transition between the past and the present. I think it’s a powerful and effective way to convey their relationship in a very short period of time.

On top of that I also really enjoy the love story. The girl is certainly strange and kind of creepy in the way that she goes about methodically killing all of the workers in the GCA facility. Still, her boyfriend is very devoted to her, and as we see in the end they have a sort of “screw the world at least we’re together” kind of romance. The implications of this are of course dangerous, even immediately apocalyptic, and I think that is a nice twist on the usual love story approach. The idea of throwing away the burdens of society in pursuit of love literally lead to the end of the world as we know it. The fact that these characters do that for each other is touching, but again, the implications of this are kind of disturbing.

Now, given other articles I’ve written on this blog, I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least touch on the gaming aspects of this movie. Once the fighting starts a little bar pops up at the bottom of the screen labeling numbers 1-8, very reminiscent of an MMO abilities line-up. Without being overt or preachy about it, since the story focuses primarily on the relationship between the two protagonists, I think this film touches on our relationship with games, in particular our ability to control avatars. Prior to going into the fight, the man asks his girlfriend to go easy on the corporate drones defending her floor. At the end of the fight when she makes him kill a woman, he wonders why she did that. Recently there has been some new neural research that has led to scientists being able to implant false memories in the brains of mice as well as to create a brain-to-brain interface that allows humans to control animals with their thoughts. It may not be long before the fantasy of controlling a human avatar is a reality. This film briefly touches on what some implications of that might be.

Finally, there is the way this film handles the damsel in distress trope. It doesn’t quite turn the trope on its head, since the female lead still needs rescuing (or at least her physical body does), but she is the one who engineers it from the inside, controlling her boyfriend to come into the prison she is being held in and save her. Ultimately she is really just saving herself, since her lover could not have done it on his own. I find new takes on old tropes to be fun, when they are done well, and in this case I think that Kesh pulls this off beautifully.

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