One of my favourite shows still on air is Black Mirror. As most people know, the anthology series looks at our relationship with technology and how it can be dangerous and damaging. While there’s a lot to love about the series, it can certainly push its main thematic throughline a bit too far. This was especially the case when it moved onto Netflix and expanded its episode count per series. Not that there aren’t gems in the later series, it’s just that it’s a show that can feel a bit excessive and puritanical in its anti-technology stance.
Taking it further with its interactive movie Bandersnatch, I feel that it needs to pull back on what it’s trying to teach its audience, lest its actual message gets lost in the fray. Not that the show is anti-technology, but it challenges the way we use it as a means to offset our darker and more uncomfortable vices. This kind of gets a bit lost as the series becomes a bit more in love with its own meta narrative and telling its characters Netflix is controlling them. I could talk for hours about Black Mirror, but the reason I’m opening with it is that I think I found something that uses technology and our relationship with it in a much more subtle way. To the point where, even if you notice it, it’s doing a lot more to have you not think about it at all.
Loveless is a 2017 tragedy directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev. It concerns a young boy named Alyosha, who goes missing during a really ugly separation of his parents Zhenya and Boris. This film explores a lot, and if you haven’t seen it I highly recommend you do, but the one thing I’ve noticed is it’s use of technology. Particularly social media and television broadcasting, and how characters tend to be so addicted to it as they can’t deal with their problems. Particularly how the parents turn a blind eye to how broken and depressed their son is.
So many times, the TV is on in this movie, and exploring important issues like the then-current Ukrainian war. Characters don’t even listen to it, however-they are too wrapped up in their own self-absorption. That’s because they use it as a distraction-background filler so they’re never alone. Real life events become whale noises to them because they’re so caught up in their own little dramas. We see it with the radio when Boris drives to work-he’s not really listening, it’s just a way to make his daily grind to work a little less arduous and lonely.
Social media is also at play to detach people. This is particularly the case for Zhenya, who spends most of her time on her phone. She’s even on it when out for a meal with her lover. This is best exemplified in that dinner scene, where the camera pointedly shows people not related to the rest of the story messing around with selfies and exchanging numbers. The use of instant gratification and false connection that social media gives you allows these characters to blatantly ignore their real issues. These parents don’t really understand their son because they take no time to get to know him.
Not that tech is completely demonised. There’s a throwaway line from Boris where he infers that Alyosha has more friends on the internet. This is never really expanded on, as a lot about his disappearance is left ambiguous, but it goes to show the necessity it can have on someone’s life. He was getting no affection from his parents, so he found solace in an online community. We have no idea if it was good or bad, but it was better than what he was being neglected of at home. And it’s not as if cutting yourself off completely is the solution the movie seems to believe in, either. Zhenya’s battle-ax mother lives completely isolated with an old mobile phone she barely uses, and she’s deeply unhappy and persistently paranoid. There has to be a balance in how technology influences us, but these people are too self-absorbed to understand that.
Yet they break away from it at one point, and hyperfocus their technological obsessions into looking for their son. Zhenya uses her phone more for the search, and Boris steps away from his tech-filled desk job to join the search. There’s a forest that’s prominent, as it may be where Alyosha ran off to. Abandoned buildings and lush, beautiful scenery show us what we’ve abandoned for the next best thing. Even tech that can be helpful may not be the greatest trade off. The search and rescue service are well equipped, but they’re not extremely competent being a voluntary service and have to trade off their measures pretty quickly. The police, who are much better equipped, pass it off and are reticent to help.
It’s not a completely pro-naturist theme, in fact it doesn’t really insist on anything outside of maybe consider how we live our lives. Maybe we devote too much of our time online instead of appreciating the here and now. Like our families, our relationships. Or even just our day-to-day activities. Hell, I rewatched this movie with my phone in my hand-I’m as guilty of this detachment! Like I said, this theme is not as overt as I’m making it sound, and it’s a lot more mixed into how society in general is structured to keep us isolated and self-involved. Even then, this film made me think a lot about how we use tech to zone out and detach, and I appreciate it for its subtle condemnation and thoughtful consideration.
So yeah! Take that, Black Mirror! Also hurry up with season 5, will ya Charlie?!