Benjamin Dickinson wrote, directed, and starred in Creative Control, a movie in which bloodless carnality rules with a pixelized fist. The film’s themes revolve around technology, desire, and the forbidden fruits of emotional infidelity. All of the aforementioned topics are culturally relevant, now more than ever, with the popularity of virtual reality rearing its polygon defined head. It was a long-time coming, though: pop stars appeared posthumously on award shows; hip-hop artists bobbed back and fourth at live concert venues. Commercials showed the doe-eyed Audrey Hepburn pining for chocolate on a bus, her eyes twinkling of CGI. Spike Jonze released Her, a picture about a sentient operating system as voiced by Scarlett Johansson. The uncanny valley was becoming deeper, the topography more expansive.
And Dickinson realizes the follies of this toxic marriage. When does the seemingly innocuous parade of visuals become a salacious peepshow? How long until humans take this technology into the deep end of the pool, only to buoy there until their eyes go blank? In crafting a script – or, in this particular case, a thesis – around the inherent emotional tenuousness of people, our director presents technology as the golden idol in Raiders of the Lost Ark: aesthetically beautiful, but not without impending consequence.
David (Dickinson) is an erudite, crafty, and predatory businessman in a high-rise office building. He longs for money, and is consumed, subconsciously, by the spiritual abyss in his belly. At home, he is verbally outfoxed by Juliette (Nora Zehetner), his sometime girlfriend. In his private life, David is unable to channel the feigned power he asserts at work, and subsequently struggles with his lack of emotional responsiveness. When given a new sensory technology at his place of employment, in the form of glasses that resemble Warby Parkers, our central character begins to tap into the OS of something primal. He can generate artificial figures, using the bone structure and facial features of another person, to create a farcical projection of anyone he chooses. Of course, in doing so, he immediately recreates the the appearance of his pal’s girlfriend – how appropriately lecherous!
Dickinson’s movie is both monochrome and as tonally cold as a dead circuit board. The way in which it’s shot is jarringly derivative of Christopher Nolan’s Following, from the desperately authoritative camerawork to the exhausting level of foreshadowing. The author of this picture wants you to feel how emboldened he is by the clerical explicitness of his thoughts – we’re all doomed! Computers will consume us! Sexuality is a prerequisite for weakness! Okay, everyone calm down.
Creative Control is a male-fantasy on par with Hal Hartley’s Meanwhile. Dickinson uses women as props to execute his theory that men are weak, but in doing so, he is conspicuously proud that he can make this gesture without any real female voice. It’s hard for me to buy this film as an beautifully powerful exploration of modern psychology, when all I feel is a writer than wants to be Bret Easton Ellis. And, visually, it’s hard for me to believe that Dickinson didn’t take half of his floating imagery from PS4’s Watchdogs.
Primordial instincts, technology as abuse, and workplace stress are all interesting subjects, sure. But to distill them into a self-important monologue is dangerous business. Here, Creative Control – opening March 18th at Ken Cinema – relinquishes its subtext to the ego of its author.