I’m Your Man: Memory, Desire, Artificial Life

I just caught up with Maria Schrader’s excellent new movie I’m Your Man (Ich bin dein Mensch), which came out in the UK last month.

Archaeological researcher Alma (Maren Eggert) is cajoled by her boss into serving as a participant in a scientific trial. Using interviews, studies, and brain-scans, a team of designers will create a lifelike robot intended to be her perfect companion. The result is Tom (Dan Stevens), an English-accented android programmed to meet her every emotional and physical need. Tom will live with Alma for three weeks, at the end of which she’ll write a report informing the decision on whether androids like him are allowed out into German society.

Read more

Closing the loop

It’s the last of three pieces about films and time. There were some words about visions of an endlessly repeating day; some words about the immeasurable season of grief; and finally, some words on breaking the cycle – or closing the loop.

At the beginning of Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer (2018), a woman wakes in her car beneath an L.A. underpass. With the shuffling gait of the walking dead, she heads to the concrete banks of a storm drain, where a crime scene has been established. The detectives already present are dismayed at her arrival. “This is handled,” they tell her – but the woman, their colleague, insists on knowing the details.

A man has been shot – his blood has run into the drain and is darkening in the light of a perfect California day. There are stolen bills, stained purple from a dye pack, pinned beneath the body, and a distinctive tattoo of three fat black dots on the back of the victim’s neck.

Read more

A discomfort watch

“What was the question?”

The opening line of Russell Harbaugh’s 2018 film Love After Love lets you know that this movie isn’t going to lead you by the hand. It starts as if you’ve just come back to yourself after drifting away from a conversation. You’ll be left to work out what is going on, who is related to whom and how; even the amount of time that has passed between scenes is left as a matter of conjecture.

Family patriarch Glenn is in the opening scenes, raspy-voiced but hearty at a family gathering; then he is in bed, struggling to breathe, and in the bathroom, with his two adult sons struggling to lower him onto the toilet and his wife tugging his pants down to his ankles; then he is gone and the men from the funeral home are clattering the gurney as they transfer him from the bed in which he has passed away.

His death comes a fifth of the way into this ninety minute film, but it’s the stone, cast in a pond, whose ripples we’ll be watching for the remaining duration. If last week, we talked about Groundhog Day and other fantasies of endless repetition, here Love After Love reminds us that the world doesn’t solely run on hours, days, months, and years. There are other ways to mark life’s pace, and other kinds of endlessness, like the time in which someone close to you is irrevocably gone. You might not be able to say how much of the calendar this movie covers, yet it clearly takes place almost entirely within one season: the season of grief.

Read more

The Only Winning Move: Interview with Peter Scoblic, Part 1

Dr. Peter Scoblic is a co-founder and principal of the strategic foresight consultancy Event Horizon Strategies. A former executive editor at The New Republic and Foreign Policy who has written on foresight for publications including the New York Times, The Washington Post, Science, and Harvard Business Review, Peter is also a senior fellow with the International Security Program at New America, and an instructor for the Professional Development Program at Harvard University. Previously, he was deputy staff director of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, where he worked on approval of the New START agreement and was the chief foreign policy speechwriter for Chairman John Kerry.

On the eve of a particularly fraught election and a turbulent moment in US political history, Peter joined me for a discussion about his career, ranging from post-Cold War nuclear arms policy to the relationship between policymaking and pop culture, plus the practical question of how and to what extent we can usefully predict the future. The interview will appear on this blog in three parts, but you can read it in its entirety as a PDF download here.

I began by asking Peter if he’d always been ambitious to work in foreign policy.

Foreign policy is something I’ve always been interested in, especially national security work, and particularly nuclear weapons work. There’s been a wonky streak running through me over the years, often focussed on these dark existential issues.

It goes back to being a child of the 80s; I believe the second movie I ever saw was War Games, starring Matthew Broderick, in which a teen hacks into the computers of NORAD, the aerospace defence command. I was probably too young to see it and the experience, combined with the actual headlines of that decade, planted a seed which I was able to explore as a student at Brown. 

Read more

Matt at the Cultural Gutter: Commemorating Ernest Borgnine

Ernest Borgnine memorial at Tortilla Flats NYC
Photo from Ruth Fremson / New York Times

Ernest Borgnine died on 9th July.

At his booth in Tortilla Flats, a Tex-Mex joint in New York’s West Village, they’ve put up  a memorial shrine.

I’ve been there on pilgrimage. It was Borgnine’s birthday. There was free tequila, a colouring competition, and a game of bingo where the numbers had to form an ‘E for Ernie.’

Drunkenly, my date and I used poster paints, glitter and glue to liven up photocopies of Ernest’s face before the bingo caller ordered everyone to toast the aged star (“Here’s to another 95 for Mr. Borgnine!”).

Best. Date. Ever.

You can see my latest piece, commemorating the great man, over at the Cultural Gutter, a Canadian website devoted to disreputable art.