Creative Control, a new science fiction film opening Friday in theaters across the Bay Area, begins in a Brooklyn of the near future, a future full of glass-doored offices, well-appointed lofts and wearable technology.
Is it a utopic future? No, those aren’t really interesting -- and they usually belie a sinister, motivating secret. It’s a dystopia then? Not that either: society remains intact. Far more uncomfortable than either classifying dichotomy, the future depicted in Creative Control, by the film’s end credits, seems inevitable.
The movie opens as advertising executive David (Creative Control’s writer/director Benjamin Dickinson) shows up at work late and hungover. Handsome, stylish and sporting just the right amount of facial hair, he’s instantly unlikable.
During a recent appearance on KQED’s Forum, Dickinson explained how he created the character of David. “I just exaggerated all my worst qualities,” he said. “I think David is a prototypical white male in his thirties working in tech... ambitious, empty, neurotic.”
Just as David’s ambitious, empty, neurotic persona makes it difficult for him to care about anything or anyone, it’s hard to care about the main characters in Dickinson’s film: David, his yoga-instructor girlfriend Juliette (Nora Zehetner from Brick), his best friend and playboy fashion photographer Wim (Dan Gill), or Wim’s girlfriend Sophie (Alexia Rasmussen).
The shallow narrative arc of Creative Control centers around David’s use of “Augmenta,” augmented reality technology that looks like a pair of slick, clear-framed glasses in a Cupertino-made box. Tasked with the job of developing a creative advertising campaign for Augmenta, David outsources that job to “a genius-level creative,” musician and performer Reggie Watts playing, well, Reggie Watts.
As David toys with Augmenta on his own time, developing a digital avatar of Sophie to fulfill his covetous fantasies, he grows more distant from his real-life girlfriend -- in the midst of her own thinly-sketched crisis of faith regarding the question of yoga or no yoga, and if no yoga, what else. If Juliette enjoys a life without overt digital intervention, a more bodily engagement with the world, she’s also directionless, naïve and oblivious to her own privilege. See what I said about hard to like?
Wim shares none of David’s anxiety about sex, relationships or technology, mostly because he leads a purely hedonistic lifestyle, sleeping with his models, carrying on with Sophie, sending in flagrante pictures to his best friend.
And what can I say about Sophie, the object of David’s affection? Not much. Her digital avatar, who looks very much like Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina is sultry and obedient, her real-life self flirts with danger, but ultimately avoids any real impropriety. She, too, works in fashion.
Since the main characters all work in worlds dominated by appearances, or the appearance of bettering oneself, it’s fitting that Creative Control looks good. Shot in black and white, with Pleasantville-esque moments of color for the digital avatar of Sophie, the movie presents a future instantly recognizable as the next, better-designed iteration of our own. Phones become slim tablets of clear plastic, David manipulates Augmenta with the tap of a few fingertips, Brooklyn is even cleaner than it is now.
It’s at a technology-free party hosted by Watts that the movie proposes a bit of central tension. “We’re definitely more comfortable with loops because you know where you’re gonna end up,” Watts says to a drugged-out David. Will the ad man choose a looped life or branch out (in his mind, this means pursue Sophie) to explore spiral-shaped possibilities?
There’s no big moral lesson here; ambitious, empty, neurotic people rarely provide much in the way of learning opportunities. But Creative Control does reflect -- at times -- an uncannily familiar world to our own. New technology both helps and hinders us, but in Creative Control, as in real life, it’s the preexisting malaise, anxiety and relationships that shape our use of that technology, not the other way around.
Creative Control opens March 18 at Landmark Opera Plaza in San Francisco, Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley, Camera 3 in San Jose. For more information visit magpictures.com/creativecontrol.