Thursday, March 26, 2015

Pixel Theory: Pandora's Box

In his most recent short film, Spanish filmmaker Daniel Hernandez explores the effects of virtual connections at their most extreme.

The film begins on a post-apocalyptic battlefield. There are pillars of fire. Molten lava courses in what look like tiny cracks in the Earth. There is the sound of heavy breathing. Lasers dart across the screen. Suddenly, a voice from an earpiece cues the audience in on the mission: this battlefield is a game. It's laser ball, and we are the eyes of Javier, a muscle-bound man clad in black leather and bullets. He is the epitome of futuristic warrior. As sweat rolls down his war-painted face, his athletic prowess takes center stage. He jumps, dives, crashes, shoots his laser with incredible accuracy, then receives a penalty. Time-out, Javi.

Cue, reality. We are in a room overrun by filth. A shirtless, overweight man, dripping with sweat and covered in his own vomit sits strapped to a chair in a virtual reality mask. His heart rate is being monitored, and he seems to be receiving food intravenously. Next to him, another man -- wet, black hair, obviously unclean, wearing an undershirt that looks as if it is becoming part of his skin -- takes off his mask. Furiously, he storms from the room: Javier?

He rants about needing to get back, missing out on the game, losing his love. He is not alone. In another room, in front of a window overlooking a world ruined by the forward march of "progression," an older man paints a picturesque scene from a villa somewhere. It is Javier's father. He pleads with Javi to join him, to unhook, but Javi retorts. This, Javi says, is not living. The old man is living in the past. He's chasing his dead wife's ghost. He needs to join the times, get hooked in, come with him, to a place where he can really experience the real world. Javier is accepted there. He is a hero. He has the love of a beautiful woman. He is attaining the recognition he lacks in his father's home.

The film continues with an argument over dinner in which Javier and his father both push for the other to join in what they consider reality. But while Javier's time in the land of laser ball is hardly reality, it could be argued that his father is also disconnected from the "real" world. Although he paints a landscape in front of a landscape view, the two are in no way congruent. The world outside lies in ruins, but he paints a spring day.

An alarm tells Javi his time in the penalty box has ended; he can return to his virtual "real" life. He rushes to the chair, so anxious to hook up that he does not recognize the filth surrounding him. After Javier lowers his mask, the room becomes the laser ball battlefield. Javier is, again, in peak physical condition and being praised by all. He sees his love coming towards him. She is also clad in black leather and a supermodel's frame. She slinks to be with him, mouth open, nearly panting with desire. He is a champion.

But in his father's world, the walls begin to shake. An earthquake threatens to destroy the building, and as the mortar crumbles around him, Javi's father runs to his son's game room.

On the battlefield, Javi's face turns from that of a lustful conqueror to a fragile boy. As the camera flashes to reveal his current view, his father now stands in the path of his lover. Their eye contact intensifies, and Javi bypasses the woman's touch for a virtual embrace with the man, as their bodies in the apartment lie covered in rubble.

The final scene

Hernandez's work is a poignant piece, aptly named for the kind of chaos springing forth from the choice to plug-in to the virtual world or unplug from the present. In both of these cases, the men lack the genuine connection necessary to sustain a relationship with one another (and, likely, with anyone). While Javier's father may be missing out on his life after his wife's death by allowing himself to imagine a world in which she is still living, Javier's pursuit of a life in a virtual world may be more indicative of Hernandez's warning to today's audiences.

Javi's game persona is, of course, only one representation for any fictionalized persona created via technology. His virtual anonymity allows him to create an identity that encapsulates all that he sees as successful and desirable, but while living there, he misses out on relationships that are more intrinsically meaningful. The desire for that kind of relationship with his father is, arguably, the reason for his father's appearance within the game screen. Javi's virtual world is infiltrated by his unanswered needs in the physical world. His father's crumbling apartment remains, a measure of the damage done by both men through neglecting their life in the tangible present day.

To view the film's trailer, visit:

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