Sadie Rogers, “How is This the World” (2019)
Starting out almost as a gritty film noir crime thriller, this short film transforms into a music video of science fiction romantic fantasy – but not without some hard questions about how much the real world has degraded to the extent that young generations of people find virtual reality a better place to be true to themselves and to find real values and authenticity, as opposed to a real world full of disillusionment, fake news and history, and manipulation. A worried mother, Elise (Hanna Dworkin), searches for her son Raj (Hunter Bryant) in cyberspace by enlisting an aged worn-out hacker, Bernie (Matt DeCaro) in her search. Bernie sends Elise into the part of cyberspace he originally designed with Chloe (director Sadie Rogers herself) as her guide and companion. There Elise finds Raj secure with his new friends and a girl (Raven Whitley) and finds herself torn between taking him back to the real world of loneliness, isolation and drug addiction, and leaving him in a safe world with happy, healthy youngsters – albeit a world composed entirely of algorithms.
On one level the film can be read as a criticism of the world we have created in which young people have no hope and few spaces now exist in which young people can find one another and experience love and connection in a context free of violence and exploitation. The world Bernie created may look an odd mish-mash of 1980s-era New Romance / indie grunge / Goth punk set in an American high school but for Raj – and eventually perhaps for Elise – it appears more real than the world they have left behind. Of course the irony remains that Raj’s newfound home is not only an imagined simulacrum but it happens to be the creation of someone who himself is jaded and lives in his own dream-world even in the real world. On another level the film might be seen as a lesson in which parents must learn to let go of their offspring and allow them to grow up by making their own decisions and learning from their mistakes. The virtual world that Raj enters is a safe environment in which he can do all this without having to fear that his decisions and errors will follow him into the real world and blight his life forever.
Dworkin holds the film together as it smoothly transitions from dreary, seedy real life, filled with disappointment and alienation, into a colourful fantasy where everyone’s dreams can and will be fulfilled. The rest of the cast does good work but they tend to revolve around Dworkin. The film retains its suspense at least until Chloe begins to sing and the film improbably becomes an extended music clip. Details of costuming and setting are done very well to ensure a seamless change from one film genre to another. Tension is regained when the film cuts off just before the moment Elise makes up her mind about whether to let go of Raj or not.