|David Garcia on Sat, 4 May 2019 02:12:06 +0200 (CEST)|
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To the Turing test for establishing machine intelligence we can now add the McEwan test: Does he falls in love and then sleeps with
your girlfriend. If he does and you hate him he passes the test. This is the starting point of Machines Like Me, a classic love triangle in which
McEwan deploys the literary novelist’s craft and craftiness to generate a sense of interiority in his characters and in the reader. This is has an unsettling
effect when applied to Adam the artificial human and protagonist in a love triangle. Adam is seen through the eyes of the flat footed Charlie
Friend the machine’s all too human owner. McEwan's talent for mingling an English creepiness with forensic moral examination re-animates in
compelling form over famillier philosphical conundrums on the nature of consciousness whilst playing a useful trick only open to the novelist.
Nearly a decade separates Aaron Sorkin’s brightly vindictive movie Social Network from Bo Burnham's *8th Grade* a hymn to teen
anxiety and panic attacks, a decade in which the psycho/social consequences of Zukerberg’s vision have come home to roost. Burnham
a former Youtube star and charmless stand up has in his big screen debut delivered a masterclass in the depiction of teen anxiety and
alienation refracted through the cracked (literally) glass of social media’s hall of mirrors. To my surprise (I was not a fan till now)its a match for
any of the post war coming of age classics from Catcher in the Rye onwards.
For anyone who has suffered from social anxiety this is a difficult at times excruciating movie to watch. In a New Yorker feature Michael
Schulman declared to Burnham that "8th Grade felt visceral in the way that adolescence feels when your in the middle of it.” To which
Burnham responds "I wish life was a little less visceral the "worst thing about a panic attack for me is that I feel more alive than I ever felt”. This
statement has all the looped ambivalence of the movie’s relationship to the ways ‘smart’ devices have insinuated themselves into every corner
of life no longer a separate ‘virtual’ realm, insertiability is total, this is the digital condition. Mission accomplished
If the movie does one thing it screams of the need to radically re-make the ideal of ‘participation’. An ideal that remains ubiquitous but utterly
transformed into zombie form. Filmically what is so arresting is that such psychological intenisty can coexist with such a lack of dramatic incident.
A simple visit to a teen pool party is made to appear as physically hazardous and traumatic as the body horror of any slasher movie.
One aspect of the film is its ability to use the confessional aspect of the youtube channel to embody the intense "interiority” of teen life. It is through
the medium of Kayla Day's (Elsie Fisher) youtube channel made up of stumbling motivational movies that we first introduced to Kayla talking about “how to
be yourself”. Unlike Burnham whose followers are in the millions Kayla has so few followers she is effectively talking to herself which of course is the whole
This way of using the term interiority is taken from a piece by the novelist Zia Haider Rhamen in which he speculates about the difficulty film has in replicating
the first person dimension of the novel. He uses the example of the Great Gatsby. His argument is that in general film cameras show everything in the third
person, rather than from the vantage point of a particular character. But from a stance separated from any consciousness.” Rhamen argues that “If our
reading experience of a first person novel is substantially conditioned by the particular perspective of the character telling the story, (and when is it not)
then recreating that reading experience through the third person of film is impossible”. His point is that there is a basic difference between fiction grounded
in the *interiority* of characters on the one hand and film and TV on the other. One of the many achievements of 8th Grade is that it opens new doors to
demonstrate that this is no longer true.. if it ever was.
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