This is a review of "Demonlover" and "Boarding Gate", two films by director Olivier Assayas.
"Demonlover" focuses on the manoeuvres of various multinational corporations as they vie for the financial control of interactive 3-D anime pornography. The film sees the postmodern world as an all-pervasive pornographic video game, in which every level or space is housed (like the rabbit holes in Lynch's "Inland Empire") within a seemingly infinite series of overlapping boxes and containers. This schema is what philosopher Gilles Deleuze calls the control society, in which the world is comprised of "open boxes" which exist in both physical space and cyberspace. Between and within these boxes humans float, carrying packets of information in which the content, in true McLuhan fashion, is always the content of another medium. In a sense, humans are transmitters or facilitators of information between these surfaces. They are the bridge between content and container.
The film takes a very dark view of capitalism. Finance is codified as rape, sodomy, sex games and murder, whilst boardrooms and corporate offices become "boarding gates" or "access points" to bondage parlours, fetish dungeons and torture chambers, their dark shows broadcast live on the Net like stock-market indices. In true Croenenberg (Existenz, History, Promises), Kubrick (Eyes) and Lynch (Inland) fashion, the film is too smart to separate the real from the virtual (Matrix, Truman Show, Dark City), but instead works to show their indiscernibility.
As the film progresses, Assayas shows how our social sphere has become conflated with the logic of interactive gaming. The world is a game-space, everything evacuated, laid flat, everyone a participatory avatar, everything governed by source code and every action a mere means to an end. All that counts is the score, individuals exclusively defined by their points or place in the game, which is also their spot on a corporate ladder in which the competition is unremitting and ruthless.
Everyone in the film is thoroughly desensitised to sex and violence, accepting it all as a normalized part of the game. Globalization has taken the game worldwide, corporations all jostling for domination. The survivors are multilingual, career consumed, chic, genderless, androgynous, always in a state of flux and thoroughly devoid of Self. They are flexible and fragmented to the point of nonexistence. Their masks mask the fact that there are no identities to hide. When they speak, every sentence is about business, stocks, shares, mergers and the joys or traumas of unfettered capitalism. Feelings are understood entirely in relation to "work" and "usefulness".
Assayas conveys the schizophrenia of our age by sticking to sustained, super close ups. Establishing shots are rare, the camera is nervous, anxious, while the colour palette is ultra modern, all cool blues and whites, neon lights and corporate fluorescents. As the game world suffers extreme cultural overload, its inhabitants must rely on blinders. Those who aren't myopic, where myopia is form of niche specialization, must learn to quickly process, digest, dismiss, skim and filter masses of information, lest they overload. Adapt to this toxic future or die.
China and Japan are the new markets, the cutting edge of capital. In this game, some winners take most, most winners take some, and the rest suffer enormously. The game stresses dominance and submission, the film ending on a shot as spiritually empty as the end of Romero's "Dairy of the Dead". In "Dairy" the lone survivors of humanity are locked in a room with a computer screen. Here, Assayas has his hero "sucked into a computer"; atomized.
If "Miami Vice" stresses the seemingly infinite speed and reach of the market, the constant swirl of product and the inability of human connections to be forged in transit, never mind the formation of a stable Self in a world of undercover masks and collapsible identities, then Assayas takes things to their absurd conclusion. In "Demonlover", companies unknowingly employ their enemies and are entirely populated or infected by undercover agents. There are no values outside of individual success and dominance. And as this routinised violence becomes embraced by the global culture, repressed violence and taboo sexuality slips to the underside and right back round again. The cyber is no longer the shadow of a culture which glamorises all that is obscene, rather, the boundaries between the cyber and the real are no longer perceptible.
"Boarding Gate" is also a film about boxes. Our protagonist, played by Asia Argento, moves between corporate offices, loading docks, airports, condominiums, sweatshops, shopping malls, nightclubs, toilets and abandoned workrooms. Like the hero of "Demonlover", she is part sex worker and part corporate lackey, bridging the worlds of the ultra rich and the hopelessly impoverished.
Argento bounces from spaces packed with crowds of human beings to spaces which are completely empty. No space is her home. She belongs nowhere, the flux demanding that she become a creature of transience, rootless, a tool of functional anonymity. Quoting anthropologist Marc Auge, philosopher Steven Shaviro calls this a world of "non places" in which "transit points and temporary abodes proliferate under luxurious or inhuman conditions". Everywhere is a bus stop to somewhere else.
The "Boarding Gate" of the film's title thus conjures up Deleuze's rhizomatic network, in which "any point can be connected to any other point, and must be". Argento travels from gate to gate, container to container, without ever arriving at a final destination. As Deleuze says, in the control society "you never finish anything", Argento subjected to a series of endless postponements, the same problems and conflicts simply deferred and relayed from one space to the next without ever being resolved. She moves from boarding gate to boarding gate, passed and traded around like virtual capital while other people prosper.
The film ends with Argento contemplating killing her handlers. She decides against it. They all think she's dead. They have no use for her. Better to live this way, she thinks. She slips away. A ghost, but free.
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