How fear is used to control people in “Fear Psychosis and the Cult of Safety – Why are People so Afraid?”

“Fear Psychosis and the Cult of Safety – Why are People so Afraid?” (Academy of Ideas, 3 April 2022)

In itself, this is an interesting video talk about the cultural phenomenon of fear that currently pervades Western society across the globe in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center buildings in New York City in September 2001 and what followed after: the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, the NATO interventions in Libya and Syria in 2011, the spate of terrorist incidents in Europe and other parts of the world, and ongoing Western manipulation of Ukraine resulting in various Color Revolutions that have had the effect of eroding democracy and bringing to power governments that work closely with NATO with the aim of undermining and eventually overthrowing the current government of Russia. Much attention is given over to detailing how people living under a narrative of constant fear think and behave, and how a belief that the world is a dangerous and unstable place leads to a cult of safety that puts limits on people’s freedoms and ability to make decisions for themselves, their families and communities, and encourages conformity and dependence on authority figures and ideologies. In previous centuries, Western society relied on religion, especially state Christianity in its Roman Catholic and Protestant forms, to control people and enforce conformity; now in an age where most people profess atheism, and with the COVID-19 pandemic being uppermost in the lives of people and nations across the world, the new ideology used by governments and their backers to control people is based on a narrow (and very distorted) interpretation of “science” or what might be called Scientism (and which the video narrator calls The Science), with public health officials, regulation agencies, pharmaceutical corporations and opinion makers elevated to celebrity status by mainstream news media acting as a hierarchy of high priests telling the public what to believe and what not to believe.

The video puts forward quite a convincing argument on how the narrative of fear is used to restrict political freedoms, shut out freedom of speech, compel conformity and stop people from questioning the conditions of society, why things are as they are, and perhaps challenging ideas, traditions, structures and paradigms that have long outlived their original usefulness and relevance and are now being used by power elites to exploit others and deny people their rights and freedoms. The video makes a plea for us to become aware of how fear pervades our culture and our lives, how fear shapes society and the decisions we make, and to try to train our thinking and the way we view the world to become more optimistic and develop an attitude of courage, hope, risk-taking, resilience and adaptability.

Unfortunately the video provides no guidance as to how individuals might take the small steps needed to change their thinking and behaviour, and break away from being brainwashed to fear. Just as importantly, the video does not say how individuals might support one another to maintain optimism, hope, courage and other positive behaviours, ideas and belief systems that encourage and reinforce risk-taking and enterprising personalities. A second criticism that might be levelled at the video is that it fails to make the connection between the cult of fear and the historical experience of Western societies, especially during the 19th and 20th centuries when much of the world was under European and US colonial / imperialist domination. Anglocentric settler societies founded upon dispossessing indigenous peoples of their lands and resources, their cultures, histories and identities, and exploiting those peoples and immigrants, voluntary and forced, for their labour to benefit a minority elite, especially lived (and continue to live) under the fear that all these peoples will eventually rebel and claim what is rightfully and justly due to them. The United States in particular is a society very much based on fear – fear of slave rebellion translated into fear of black people, fear of those opposed to American belief in exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny – and this fear has spread into and through its mass media culture. The video does not probe to any degree at all into how US popular commercial culture has shaped and continues to shape people’s perceptions and channels their insecurities and fears into a narrative that now dominates Western culture.

As with its other videos, this video is lavishly illustrated with mostly Western art works that help to illustrate its claims.

Worker solidarity to save the day and a mining colony in “Alien: Ore”

Kailey and Sam Spear, “Alien: Ore” (2019)

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror film “Alien”, the film production company 20th Century Fox commissioned six short films to capture the spirit of the original film. Twin sister film-makers Kailey and Sam Spear brought out this work that runs just short of eleven minutes and which (like the original film) focuses on ordinary working people forced to defend themselves with the meagre tools they have when faced with the hideous alien menace.

Lorraine Hawkes (Mikela Jay) goes down into a mine along with her fellow miners to investigate the disappearance of a work colleague. They quickly discover their colleague’s remains along with the remnants of opened alien eggs and realise that a group of aliens has infested the mine. While mine supervisor Hanks (Tara Pratt), following the miners’ movements on her screen, dithers over whether to abandon the miners to their fate or not, one of the aliens starts picking off the miners and those fortunate enough to survive the sudden attack escape back into the elevator. Lorraine though is determined not to allow the aliens to escape out of the mine and threaten the mining colony (where she is raising her grandchild) so she decides to go back down to the mine to stop the aliens’ advance. Her fellow miners follow her in an act of solidarity.

With most of the action occurring in claustrophobic settings – the miners in their crowded elevator or in a tunnel and Hanks in a bunker-like control room – the film makes good use of the restrictive, cramped conditions the characters are forced to work in to create a sense of rising horror and panic. The dim conditions in the mine help obscure the CGI animation used to create the alien and much of what we see of the alien is actually in silhouette. The actors playing the miners look unglamorous and very sweaty in the hot underground mine.

In such a short film with a basic story, a fairly large cast of actors but a small budget, character development is very limited: by deciding to put the colony’s welfare above her own safety and life, Lorraine emerges as a leader among the miners. Hanks’ apparent indecision (which may mask a more sinister agenda to leave the miners to their fate and capture the alien for the mining company – it’s probably a subsidiary of Weyland Yutani Corporation) sets her up as antagonist to Lorraine’s heroine though the women do not actually confront each other. The film deliberately opts for an open ending: we never find out if Lorraine and the miners succeed in driving back the aliens and avenging their dead colleague.

Ordinary working people, abandoned to their own inadequate technology and forced to fight a fierce, inhuman enemy, prepare to sacrifice themselves for their community with grit, when those who should support them desert them instead: this theme is true to the spirit of the original “Alien” film, in which human intelligence, ingenuity and dogged determination do more than technology to bring down a dangerous enemy. A bigger budget, a more developed and lengthier plot, and better character development than reliance on flat stereotyped characters could make this short film an intriguing and intelligent addition to the “Alien” film franchise.

The Manufacturing of a Mass Psychosis – Can Sanity Return to an Insane World?: how the insanity begins and how it can be cured

“The Manufacturing of a Mass Psychosis – Can Sanity Return to an Insane World?” (Academy of Ideas, 24 April 2021)

In past centuries, mass psychosis in Western societies took the form of witch hunts and persecutions, religious wars and genocides, and even dancing manias among nunneries; in the 20th and 21st centuries, mass psychosis has also been expressed in the form of totalitarian state societies where all power is concentrated in a central government and all institutions, codes and systems of authority and governance are created and controlled by that government. In such societies, the rights and freedoms of individuals are given by the government which also reserves the right to deny them to the citizenry. The people are divided into two groups: the rulers (always a minority) and the ruled (the majority), and both groups undergo a mass psychological transformation in which the ruled regress to a passive child-like status dependent on the rulers who become their gods and who believe that they alone have the knowledge, power and authority to rule the masses.

The video explains in a rather general way how the minority of rulers seizes power and maintains it by using shock tactics on a regular or semi-regular basis to sow fear and terror through the masses. Shock tactics can include the use of a threat, real or imagined or deliberately created, and might involve scapegoating a particular group of people such as gypsies or Jews to channel the masses’ anxieties and aggressions. Propaganda, fake news and disinformation, the abuse of statistics, lying by omission and suppression of the truth by labelling truth-seekers as conspiracy theorists (and thereby scapegoating them and portraying them as deplorables or trash) are some of the tools the rulers use as shock tactics, usually in combination, to unsettle the ruled and keep them in a state of fear, anxiety and hysteria.

A further step totalitarian states take to keep people in psychological darkness – what Dutch psychoanalyst Joost Meerloo called “menticide” – is to divide them and isolate them, thereby breaking up social interactions and ultimately fragment communities based on common interests. Break-up and fragmentation can be achieved by seizing the lands and resources of communities and forcing them to live on crowded reservations with other communities; at the same time, the rulers may take away the children of these communities, breaking family, social and cultural continuities. The children have no access to their cultures and languages, and are treated as tabulae rasae to be indoctrinated with whatever the rulers deem fit for them to know to take their place as worker bees and slaves in society.

With menticide being a multi-pronged strategy, the way to counter it, defend against it and to push it back to the point where societies can overthrow their diseased ruling elites and replace them with true democracy is also to adopt an agenda of many tactics and tools with common goals. Breaking free of mass brainwashing, discovering the truth and proclaiming it to as many of the brainwashed as possible, using humour and ridicule to attack the rulers, and creating parallel structures, networks and institutions that exist as a parallel society within the dysfunctional society are ways in which the people can erode the power and authority of hated elites. It has to be said though that such a strategy is a long-term one that often lasts longer than the life-times of the people involved in it. On this though, the video is silent; we are not told that such work is greater than the individuals who initiate it, who labour in it and who ultimately may benefit from it, one day well into the future.

The video’s artwork (much of it by Hieronymous Bosch) ranges from fevered and bizarre, as if inspired by dreadful nightmares, to the surreal and grotesque. The work of Joost Meerloo (“The Rape of the Mind”) is a major source of information and quotations for the video.

This video and its immediate AoI predecessors which also deal with aspects of mass psychosis and the modern totalitarian states that are founded upon it may well have been made by AoI as their response to and criticism of Western nations’ reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic by locking down societies at short notice for long periods, forcing the public to isolate with threats of the disease’s contagiousness, using propaganda and fearmongering tactics to take away individual rights and freedoms, instil anxiety and dependence on government, and to encourage the break-up of groups and communities by scapegoating people who refuse to take up dangerous mRNA injections claimed to protect against COVID-19 or its worst symptoms. If we take the video’s advice, the solution to the transformation of Western so-called liberal democracies into totalitarian dystopias is to apply a complex multi-varied approach of strategies and tactics, not all of which are necessarily going to make sense together, but which share common goals and objectives. Creating parallel structures, networks and institutions to spread truth and to counter mainstream propaganda and disinformation, and also to be a foundation for a new society when the dysfunctional society ultimately destroys itself, are needed; by implication, this is a collective activity to be undertaken by as many individuals and groups working together as possible, The work is greater than the individuals or groups involved in it, and this is something the video neglects to mention. AoI has a clear individualist stance perhaps akin to anarcho-capitalism so to advocate for collective action over individual action or groups of people working either in parallel or together as still self-interested actors – as opposed to people working together because they have decided to sacrifice some of their aims or freedoms to achieve a collective goal or goals that might not benefit them personally – would be beyond the pale for AoI. The result is that the film is very weak on suggesting pragmatic action and remedies for the problems it identifies.

A transcript to the video can be found at this link.

The Mass Psychosis and the Demons of Dostoevsky: how ideas and ideologies lay the groundwork for mass psychosis and control

“The Mass Psychosis and the Demons of Dostoevsky” (Academy of Ideas, 31 March 2021)

Drawing on the work of psychoanalysts Carl Jung and Joost Meerloo, this video explores the impact that ideas and ideologies can have on societies and predispose them to the fears, anxieties and insecurities that in turn drive them and individuals towards collective mass psychosis that legitimises scapegoating and persecution of minorities, supports war and encourages mass murder and genocide. These ideas are described in the video as demons and this metaphor, attributed to the Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky, is expanded into the suggestion that, like demons, ideas can possess humans and direct their thinking, behaviour and actions.

The video gives a general description of what these ideas and ideologies are or might involve – they can promote passivity or learned helplessness, or depict humans as imperfect beings incapable of self-improvement; they can set up humans in a hierarchy in which some humans are exceptional and others are not (and deserve to be driven to extinction); or they can justify the existence of a small elite before whom the majority must bow in obedient slavery – and then goes on to explain how these ideas or ideologies spread in societies aided by the political, social, cultural or economic tools available to them.

As is usual in their videos, AoI use paintings, other artworks and historical film archives (mainly old Soviet film) to illustrate their voice-over narrative. Quotations drawn from Jung, Meerloo and others are also repeated as text on inserted title cards. There is an anti-Communist bias in AoI’s choice of historical news and documentary film but I suspect if AoI had tried to be more even-handed and neutral in their choice of films, they might possibly run afoul of censors in Canada. AoI’s selection of quotations from Meerloo’s work “The Rape of the Mind” (which was also critical of the House Un-American Activities Committee and its actions in the US during the 1950s) might suggest the film-makers are more even-handed than their video at first appears.

One chilling observation featured in the video is that those possessed by such ideas and ideologies that lead to a totalitarian mindset and the quest for power and control believe that what they are doing is good, not just for themselves but for others and the whole of society that they seek to dominate. They are blind to the possibility that they are setting themselves – and by implication, others and even entire nations and regions – up for ruin.

The transcript of the voice-over narrative appears at this link.

Is a Mass Psychosis the Greatest Threat to Humanity? – how mass delusion forms through real, imagined or fabricated threats

Is a Mass Psychosis the Greatest Threat to Humanity? (Academy of Ideas, 27 February 2021)

Academy of Ideas is a Canadian-based website that explores and explains the ideas, philosophies and psychological theories of selected past thinkers and psychologists such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Soren Kierkegaard and Carl Jung among others, with the aim of encouraging self-empowerment and individual action, and helping readers cope with media disinformation. AoI also run a Youtube channel, posting short videos on philosophy, psychology and particular topics that may be relevant (though in a limited way) to viewers’ current social / political contexts. Over the past couple of years AoI has released videos on social psychology, in particular on the phenomenon of mass psychosis in human societies.

In this video, with the use of paintings, drawings and archived film from the 1930s and 1940s, AoI investigates what mass psychosis is and gives historical examples (some of the more recent ones in the 20th and 21st centuries appear to be cherry-picked: for example, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union under Stalin, China and North Korea) of societies that experienced such a phenomenon. The impact of mass psychosis on individuals, as explained by voice-over references to quotations by Carl Jung (reinforced with the text in inserted title cards), can be severe: individuals in such societies can be overcome and dominated by emotional, fearful and panicky thinking, and can end up carrying out acts including murder that they would normally consider repugnant. A society under psychosis is detached from reality, believing in and influenced by delusions about its place in the world and about other societies in that world, and acting accordingly. The psychosis can be driven by governments, corporations, other organisations (including mass media organisations) and individuals with self-serving agendas and ideologies.

The video goes on to explain that populations can be made fearful and vulnerable to manipulation leading to mass psychosis by threats that can be real or fabricated. Emphasis is put on the background cultural context of the targeted population as AoI sees it: if the society is made up of what AoI considers to be self-reliant, resilient and inwardly strong or inner-directed individuals, those people will confront and overcome the threat (no matter how arduous that effort, be it intellectual, physical and/or moral, may be) with strength and will power both individually and collectively. Once a population is in a state of panic, augmented by fearmongering tactics by mass media, its fears and anxieties can be directed into scapegoating minority groups or into supporting war against perceived enemies, with all the devastating consequences that can follow.

There is not space in the video to explain how pre-existing conditions in a society can influence whether it will respond in a positive or negative way to a crisis or threat: that explanation is given over to another AoI video. The artwork featured in the video – much of it by Hieronymous Bosch and Francisco Goya – is dramatic with strong if dark colouring and features depictions of violence.

While indeed some past 20th-century authoritarian societies do appear to be classic examples of mass psychosis, one also has to explain how these societies rallied against serious external threats, as the Soviet Union did against the Nazi German invasion in 1941 and defeated it, and how these societies managed to end their collective psychosis. On this, the video is silent, perhaps because it takes more than self-reliant and inner-directed individuals, whether acting on their own or together, to overcome mass psychosis: a culture and ideology that emphasises positive thinking and development, and which favours particular collective values and behaviours that might involve self-sacrifice and giving up one’s freedoms, must be present too.

A transcript of the video can be found at this link.

Death of a Ladies’ Man: a tale of loss, addiction and redemption but not much character change

Matt Bissonnette, “Death of a Ladies’ Man” (2020)

Inspired by the poetry and songs of Canadian poet / novelist / singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, some of whose songs grace the film as its musical soundtrack, “Death of a Ladies’ Man” follows hard-drinking Montreal university professor Sam O’Shea (Gabriel Byrne) whose life starts on a series of strange and unexpected turns beginning with finding his second wife Linda in flagrante delicto with a boyfriend. Their marriage broken down and heading for divorce, O’Shea starts seeing strange things: his long-dead father Ben (Brian Gleeson) turns up for one-on-one chats, he meets Frankenstein’s monster in a bar and a tiger-headed waitress in a restaurant. Perhaps he is under stress or having alcoholic delusions; a visit to his GP reveals a terminal brain tumour and O’Shea realises there are dreams he had been putting off a long time and which now demand fulfilment. Shoving his undergraduate literature classes off onto a colleague, O’Shea contacts and tells his ex-wife Genevieve (Suzanne Clement) and estranged children Layton (Antoine Olivier Pilon) and Josée (Karelle Tremblay) that he’s going back to Ireland to write his first novel. The children themselves need support – Layton has come out as gay and is in his first relationship with a man, and Josée is in a destructive relationship with a heroin junkie – but O’Shea flies off to Ireland and back to his childhood home in a small rural community where he almost promptly takes up with a young woman, Charlotte (Jessica Paré) and incurs the murderous wrath of a local man keen on her.

The giddy plot with its various sub-plots and their unexpected (if not quite plausible) resolutions works thanks in part to Byrne’s rumpled ease and charm as the otherwise self-absorbed and egotistical O’Shea as he leaves behind a trail of damaged relationships with consequences ranging from upset to anger to near murder. The film moves at a steady pace and the action is structured in three chapters that keep the various sub-plots separate so the plot appears more orderly than chaotic. Everything revolves around O’Shea, reflecting his self-absorption, and this means that some sub-plots go only so far and are never fully developed: the brain tumour part remains in the background and Layton’s sexuality and how this affects his relationship with O’Shea also stay dormant. How O’Shea’s family rallies around him and then how O’Shea manages to help Josée deal with her heroin addiction and come back to something resembling a normal life is not explored in much detail.

O’Shea’s chats with Dad reveal a childhood of trauma and loss that may underlie his womanising and alcohol addictions, leading to both his marriage breakdowns and his strained relationship with his children. The pattern of abandonment, trauma and loss has afflicted two generations in O’Shea’s family and threatens Josée’s health and life. Random incidents though work out to O’Shea’s benefit and eventually he is able to resolve most if not all his troubled conflicts and fulfil his ambitions of writing and publishing his first novel. Tying up loose pieces of his life brings reconciliation with his first family but also brings an unexpected sting.

The film labours under several themes: family trauma and loss that repeat through the generations; and the randomness of life and how it can derail order and cause crises but also lead perhaps to insight, purpose and eventually redemption. O’Shea eventually accepts and comes to terms with his delusions and the prospect of death itself. Things though tend to happen in such a way as to suggest that O’Shea is let off the hook for a great many serious occurrences and perhaps any lessons he might learn don’t penetrate very deeply into his consciousness. He may attend Alcoholics Anonymous sessions and swear off chasing pretty young women but the film’s general tenor as musical comedy / drama seems a bit too light-hearted to allow much character development and maturation in our hero. At the end of the film O’Shea still seems the same man he was at the beginning, with no great insights into his character and little understanding of how his childhood of abandonment and loss laid the foundation for his relationships with women and his children. He continually nags his ghost father about what happened to his mother and why she left the family even after his father admits he has no idea, and at no point during the film does O’Shea appear to acknowledge that whatever might have driven his mother to abandon him might be related to whatever drove him to leave Ireland: the lack of opportunity, the claustrophobic, even paranoiac nature of life in rural Ireland for those who didn’t conform to pre-1990s Irish social traditions.

The best part of the film is its scenery set in Montreal and rural Ireland which suggests a deeper social context to the dramas playing out in O’Shea’s life: urban Montreal, where comfortable middle-class people struggle to find purpose in dysfunctional lives in a deindustrialised environment and instead find only escapism in addiction, is a significant character in its own right, as is also rural Ireland which at first seems bracing and inviting but turns out to be restrictive and dysfunctional in its own way. That this aspect of the film is more felt than explored may be seen as a weakness but viewers cannot expect the all-too-human cast of characters, with what they already have to cope with, to be able to recognise what is oppressing them and do something about it.

Land: a film of two exiles from society finding friendship and healing

Robin Wright, “Land” (2021)

For her directorial debut, US actor Robin Wright chose to do a challenging character study of a bereaved woman, Edee (played by Wright herself), in shock after losing her husband and son, who isolates herself in a log cabin in the remote Rocky Mountains somewhere in Wyoming state. She intends to start her own vegetable garden and go hunting and fishing if need be. Her plan to go completely off-grid is apparent in the split-second scene where she ditches her cellphone into a rubbish bin, and is reinforced when she tells the man from whom she is buying his father’s log cabin that he can take away her rented car and haulage vehicle. Her attempts at living off the land however meet with failure upon failure and she doesn’t get far coming to terms with new neighbours like a pack of wolves and a huge bear that ransacks her log cabin during a severe winter. In the middle of a terrible blizzard, Edee curls up on the floor of her freezing log cabin, ready to die and be done with life.

In the nick of time arrive local hunter Miguel (Demian Bichir) and nurse Alawa (Sarah Dawn Pledge) who find Edee only days away from starving and freezing to death, and who bring her back to life with medicines, soups and warm clothing. Alawa wants to get Edee down to town and into hospital straight away but Edee refuses. Miguel offers to care for Edee and, surprisingly, teach her how to survive on her own since she is adamant about staying in her log cabin. From then on, Miguel visits Edee frequently to show her how to chop wood, how to hunt, shoot and prepare deer, and cook venison. Hunting her own food and eating meat help to strengthen Edee so she can concentrate on teaching herself from books how to create her vegetable garden. Before long, Edee is doing well for herself and becomes close friends with Miguel. At this point in the film though, Miguel tells her he is going away and leaves his dog with her. Time passes and Edee soon realises something may have happened to Miguel, that he has been away from his own home for too long.

On the surface a film of survivalist self-exile and isolation, “Land” turns out to be a meditation on reconciliation, healing and being able to connect with other people. In his own way Miguel is a damaged human being who has suffered loss because of past irresponsible behaviour; by helping Edee and teaching her how to survive, he finds purpose in living and ultimately grace and redemption. From Miguel, Edee learns to reconnect with people and to reach out to others when she needs help. Eventually she is able to come to terms with her loss and to contact her sister-in-law as equals.

While Wright and Bichir give excellent performances as Edee and Miguel, the script does leave much to be desired: the sudden jump from Edee on her own being hopeless to Edee being capable and self-reliant under Miguel’s tutelage strains credibility, especially in before-Miguel and after-Miguel scenes of Edee chopping wood. While the landscape and the ever-changing seasons are significant to the film’s visual impact and as an important aspect of the plot, even the physical environment seems subordinated to the whims of the plot with the bad weather, the wolves and the bear bothering Edee before she meets Miguel and everything brightening up and the bad animals staying away after she meets Miguel. There is much in the script that seems forced and not a little hokey, especially when Edee meets Miguel for (spoiler alert) the final time and they both reveal to each other the reasons why they did what they believed they had to do, that brought them together in the first place.

Of course the physical environment of the Rockies is essential to making this very minimally styled and structured film work and to give the impression of the passage of time. The dialogue is very sparse which I consider detracts from the realism the film attempts to show: in real life, Edee would have been talking to herself a lot as she encounters one trial after another. Voice-over narration by Wright would have added another, perhaps deeper and thoughtful dimension to the film: Edee would be wondering why Miguel goes out of his way to help her and what he hopes to get out of helping and teaching her. A mystery and not a little frisson of tension could develop as to his intentions toward her. As it is, the film seems very circumscribed by its minimalist scope and the landscapes and cinematography are made to do the work of carrying the film.

Final Offer: implausible plot made enjoyable by great acting and fast minimal dialogue

Mark Slutsky, “Final Offer” (2018)

The premise is the height of implausibility but great acting from Aaron Abrams and Anna Hopkins as protagonist and antagonist lawyers make the film enjoyable to watch. Henry (Abrams), an alcoholic traffic ticket attorney, is picked up by mystery lady Olivia (Hopkins) at a bar; next thing he knows when he wakes up, he is in a windowless room with Olivia who presents him with the biggest deal in his life. He has been chosen to represent the human species to negotiate and sign away the Earth’s water resources to a giant space-fish species whom Olivia represents. Naturally Henry is horrified and refuses to sign anything but he has no choice: he has only a few minutes to agree and to sign the deal, and the document itself is the size of a legal textbook.

At least Abrams and Hopkins have good chemistry and they also have an advantage in having worked with Slutsky previously. Abrams deftly makes Henry quite plausible as a drunken and rather sleazy attorney down on his luck through the demon drink for much of the film, and then suddenly give his character a razor-sharp mind that finds the crucial flaw in the document that (spoiler alert) scuppers the whole deal. Olivia’s face falls and the space-fish client, seen through a window that opens up in a far wall, rumbles angrily.

The big surprise is that, having defeated Olivia and the alien, Abrams proposes a date with his attractive rival who may or may not be human. This opens up the possibility of a series of short films in which Abrams finds himself doing battle either at the negotiating table or in a courtroom with extraterrestrial judges, lawyers and their equally xenomorphic clients in situations where some aspect of the Earth or its solar system is up for grabs in dubious proposals. Maybe we should stay tuned.

Numb: a powerful short film on the effects of lockdown isolation on young people

Liv McNeil, “Numb” (2020)

Originally an art school project to occupy her for the rest of the school year, Liv McNeil’s three-minute film “Numb” has reached far beyond her original audience at her school in Etobicoke, a district in Toronto, Canada: the film has garnered 100,000 views on Youtube and gained praise from Canadian film director Sarah Polley. Starring 15-year-old McNeil herself, the film is a mostly silent work (save for the music soundtrack, “My Tears are Becoming a Sea” by artist M83) detailing a young person’s experience of COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and the effect that loss of daily structure and enforced social isolation has on her. After a tour of her bedroom, in which the camera fixates on photos of friends and other memorabilia that establish the lone protagonist’s identity, the film settles on the stunning climax: a full one-minute stop-motion collage of McNeil in front of her laptop, surrounded by furniture, school notes and toys, going through weeks and months of her days in her prison, during which she suffers a silent breakdown and screams.

This heartfelt and intensely emotional film should be considered an indictment on governments and public health experts who impose lockdowns and other restrictions on healthy populations, with no thought as to what to actually do during lockdowns to ensure such actions only remain as a last resort, and who fail to protect the most vulnerable groups (in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, the elderly and others resident in nursing care homes, often run by private companies for profit) from the very scourge that supposedly necessitated lockdown in the first place. “Numb” can also be read as a protest against government and corporate actions and restrictions that cause and/or promote long-term economic and psychological pain and damage: jobs are being lost, businesses are shutting down, people are losing hope and taking their frustrations out on family members or even themselves.

A tale of alienation, dehumanisation and exploitation in “Upload:U”

Samuel E Mac, “Upload:U” (2017)

A creepy little short made in very sparing minimalist style, “Upload:U” may be viewed as a metaphor expressing the alienation and dehumanisation of people living isolated existences highly dependent on cyber-technology for social interactions. Disillusioned by her cubicle job at work, unable to connect with a male employee she fancies and cut off from her family, Jane (Lee Marshall) increasingly relies on her recreational virtual reality console, connected to the AI system in her flat, for entertainment and solace. One night, her avatar takes her to a bar where she meets a man – or a few men – and has sex with him (or them). She wakes up in the morning in pain, wounded and bloodied between her legs. A strange light glows white and red within her abdomen.

Reminiscent of the cult sci-fi horror film “Demon Seed” in which a scientist’s wife is held prisoner, raped and impregnated by a computer, this short can be distressing to watch as Jane, trying to get help through her AI which deliberately misunderstands her instructions, weakens and finally dies. At no time at all does Jane appear to realise that the AI has fooled and manipulated her, and in my view this is the film’s downfall. At the very least Jane could have asked or argued with the AI what it had done to her and why. At the very least Jane could have attempted to regain control over her life, perhaps even tried to damage the AI, and this would have given viewers a better indication of her character. As it is, Jane comes across as superficial, passive and undeserving of audience sympathy. The conclusion is predictable but is cut off very quickly so viewers get no idea of the AI’s reaction to the birth of the offspring.

While the film’s visual style is light, clear and minimalist, obscuring the horror of its plot, and its cinematography is very good and uses a cheap budget well through the use of unusual angles and points of view, the film overall is let down by a poor story and sketchy characterisation. To get something out of this film, viewers need to bring their own knowledge of human alienation gained from experience or philosophical study. Young viewers without such knowledge, at whom the film targets, are likely to find this film confusing. Viewing “Upload:U” as a metaphor for human alienation, as a first step towards dehumanising people and exploiting them as machines, may be helpful in understanding the film and its flaws.

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