One of my worthwhile discoveries in the Court Métrage or the Short Film Corner in Cannes Film Festival this year was this blindingly ambitious 30-minute short film enticingly titled Agophobia by one Canadian filmmaker who’s bold enough to coin the terminology (fear of the past, natch) and with whom I had the pleasure of meeting along the Croisette. Benjamin Ross Hayden, effervescent and disarmingly articulate, illustrates that Agophobia, for all its opaque structure and head-spinning intertextual qualities, is really crucially about humanity’s struggle in a digital world. The human species portrayed here are all trapped in a techno-dystopian future where technology has governed all living creatures, whether they be entities plugged and powered by cables or liberators who free the species from a Kafkaesque control system. If that sounds a bit like The Matrix to you, then chances are, you’re purely underestimating the ideas brewing in this impressive short.
Defying linear narrative and told in a sequence of dialogue-free vignettes, Agophobia presents itself as a cross between conceptual cinema and installation art. If ever Terrence Malick and Tim Burton both decide to collaborate for a science-fiction project, the end-result would probably look like this – a dark, weird, surreal and gossamer visual essay that feels languid at once and yet teeming with philosophical and ontological overtones. The protagonist, a ‘transhuman’ named The Ram (Random Access Memory to you, technophobes) journeys through this binary limbo encountering, and subsequently liberating, eccentric beings like a futuristic Moses freeing slaves from totalitarian, technological domination. I was told the sequences represent the five levels of the Buddhist paradigm -yet my initial interpretation of the the bull-headed figure may be an unconscious allusion to the Minotaur of the Greek mythology, doomed to forever wander a labyrinth populated with imprisoned creatures. The deeper The Ram advances into the heart of this complex maze, the more he discovers about his own manifestation, his own fate and the sheer absurdity of it all.
This all sounds like a recipe for anti-entertainment, but entertainment is not Agophobia‘s purpose. Director Hayden has far higher ambition and mettle with his refusal to adhere to easy commercial choices and rather opts for a tableaux-like structure, an assemblage of mind-and-mood pieces that amount to a credibly strong thesis about artificial intelligence’s absolute hold over humanity. Along with the meticulously designed sets, a distinctive cinematography and rather terrific and detailed make-up and choreography – it makes Agophobia less of a film and more of a magnetic aural and visual experience, one which also happens to engage you in a bit of galvanising mindfuck. It held me in rapt silence over the course of thirty minutes, in thrall of the potential great things this director is capable of bringing us in the future. Hayden is definitely a filmmaker to watch, projecting an eloquent voice with lots of things to say about our post-cultural and digital zeitgeist.[separator type=”space”]
DIRECTOR: Benjamin Ross Hayden | CAST: Kevin Fraser, Nicole Bruce, Julie Cho, Linda Cho | SCREENPLAY: Benjamin Ross Hayden | PRODUCER: Manifold Pictures Company | RUNNING-TIME: 30 mins | GENRE: Short/Sci-fi | COUNTRY: Canada