Written and Directed by: Andrew Niccol
Starring: Clive Owen, Amanda Seyfried, Afiya Bennett, Morgan Allen, Jeffrey Men, James Tam
Ever since Gattaca, his debut film back in 1997, Andrew Niccol has time and again shown his ongoing interest in becoming a bona fide Futurist. Whether he is depicting genetic tampering that results in inevitable discrimination and segregation or a much more far-fetched society exclusively regulated by and revolving around time, his eye has kept tabs on invariably bleak dystopias that feel uncomfortably closer to becoming a reality than we’d like to acknowledge. Even his lighter-hearted approaches to sci-fi linger on a heavier and perennially pessimistic note: S1mOne revisits the genre’s de rigueur themes of dehumanization and loneliness and his instantly classic screenplay for The Truman Show (elevated further by Peter Weir’s astonishing directing and, as of today, still his most important contribution to the medium) funny and ultimately uplifting as it is, builds its foundations on a depressingly Orwellian premise. It is this latter tale that Anon, his latest release as writer, producer and director resembles the most.
Set in an unspecified future where the entire world is ineludibly fit into a completely interconnected and catalogued interactive web known as The Ether, this glimpse into our fate is 1984 to the nth power. If Winston Smith’s fears were derived from the totally real possibility of Big Brother’s eyes being on any neighbour’s back, always set on you, in Niccol’s nightmarish prophecy the Government can, in fact, see exactly what you are looking at, effectively turning everyone into a camera accessible at any moment. The resulting window, wall and doorless dreamlike reality leaves no room whatsoever neither for crime nor for privacy, rendering any fantasies about real intimacy utterly preposterous.
From a strictly analytic standpoint this is a hodgepodge of a universe with bits and pieces of Minority Report, Eyes of Laura Mars, The Matrix, Sea of Love, Strange Days and Basic Instinct easily discernible all around. Contrary to what most people would most likely assume, however, the blend is satisfying. The setup, initially, is simply a murder mystery: a man is killed, the police show up to check out The Ether’s log of what he last saw before dying (pretty much the only thing law enforcement is concerned with in this conveniently regulated society) and finds instead the killer’s POV. Someone has discovered a way to hack and manipulate the system.
From there, Niccol juggles a slew of different possibilities to hinge the movie onto, not settling on any single one and still delivering a mostly gripping film filled to the brim with inventive ideas that manage to transcend all of their influences to become surprisingly unique. When the murder turns into a string of murders it becomes a serial killer movie, but then the detective on the case (Clive Owen) must go undercover to lure the main suspect (Amanda Seyfried) out of hiding, leading to hints of ’90s erotic thrillers. These, in turn, are somewhat left by the wayside when farther down the road people’s visual input get compromised and turned into virtual reality (which makes crossing streets very dangerous).
With the exception of a brief, leisurely-paced moment near the beginning of the investigation which sets up the tech’s finer intricacies with exquisite, intelligent detail that plays equally enthralling and sleep-inducing, the plot keeps moving purposefully and away from such momentary aloofness. This is intelligent filmmaking from an intelligent filmmaker but it owes so much more to the writer than the director. Niccol’s shooting choices, while thoroughly competent, are hardly what make – or doom – his movies. His penchant for minimalism in the production design, present in Gattaca, In Time and The Host, is apparent here in a future world that looks exactly like the one we inhabit today, as is his love for a retro aesthetic (all cars in here are ’80s, ’90s or prior models just like the ones Cillian Murphy and the Hoovers favored in their respective dystopias). It is the high concept that gets our attention and his writing that makes us empathize, the “what if?” at the core too enticing to divert your attention from.
I could even posit that in his R-rated depictions of intercourse he is in reality metatextualizing this perennially voyeuristic state of mind, bringing to the fore the inevitability of it all. He is acutely aware that when everyone instantly sees each other, themselves and the world around them all at once, consent becomes not only unnecessary but inconsequential. I could state that but the simple fact is that these scenes are as gratuitous as welcome, display windows to show some extremely alluring women- the preternaturally attractive miss Seyfried chief among them- in the deepest intimacy in the hopes of elliciting as many repeat viewings as possible from casual viewers
with a knack for the Male Gaze. Mission accomplished!
When everything is said and done Anon comes up as the latest indictment of our current and helplessly permanent obsession to share everything with everyone, which at this point is hardly an earth-shattering, revolutionary stance. In the movie’s best exchange, Owen asks Seyfried, a hacker intent on going unnoticed in a life where noticing is all everyone does, “Why is it so important that nobody knows you? You get rid of other people’s secrets, what’s yours?”, and she simply retorts, “Does there have to be one?” Hearing that, it is impossible not to smile in satisfied agreement, at least for those of us whose first impulse upon finding a hitherto absent zit in our genitalia is not to take a picture and post it online. — Eloy Ricardo Balderas Salazar