The Simulation: light-hearted comedy and kitsch look hide a dark heart

Faye Fillingham, “The Simulation” (2021)

Initially this short seems light-hearted and amusing but on repeated viewings its dark heart is gradually revealed. A young woman, Agatha Duo (Molly Mcnerney), feeling guilty over something and unable to sleep, generates an AI bot, John (Emmanuel Berthelot) to help her get to the bottom of her problem. It turns out she has done something very bad indeed and she wants to know how people cope with having done something they know is wrong. John is rather flummoxed as to what to do and how to help, and his background as a trader with a dodge financial company probably ill fits him as a counsellor of sorts, but eventually he tells her she should look out for Number One. Agatha sees his point of view and then reveals the nature of the crime she has committed.

The film does leave clues that Agatha may not be what we assume her to be, and that her sociopathic personality, which reveals itself gradually and steadily through the film, may be a consequence of what she is. We should not expect her to have compassion or empathy with others. At the same time, her psychology might be a perfect copy of the original Agatha’s psychology, so we should not be too unhappy that Agatha Duo has disposed of Agatha Solo: Agatha Solo would have done exactly the same thing to Agatha Duo, that Agatha Duo has done.

Some uncomfortable philosophical ideas and issues arise in this film: if people are able to create clones of themselves using computer simulation games, how much responsibility should they take for creating these clones, and can they dismiss them as breezily as they brought them into being? If a cheap product is used to make a clone, what might that clone turn out to be if its programming is as cheap as its price, and should the original person be held for the clone’s inevitable poor choices and decisions?

The film has a cheery colourful look with Agatha Duo dressed in kitschy patterned clothing and boots. Both actors play their parts well though their dialogue doesn’t give them much to work with and the existential issues that arise are fleeting and short-lived. The setting is distinctive as well and perhaps the short’s real star is the computer simulation game which is designed to look like a cartoony 1960s Cold War-era computer product complete with red button. The film has a bright and breezy tone which makes the darkness and the horror near the end of the film all the more astounding and shocking.