There are the escapist sci-fi movies that transport us to a world of spine-tingling aliens and visceral space travel. Then there are the subtle dystopian films that shine their brightest after the credits roll, ensuring your return to reality isn’t without a fresh, existential perspective.
I know you know about Black Mirror’s reputation for the latter, but let me introduce you to 2015’s artful, rather avant-garde, flick: Advantageous. It’s available on Netflix, right now.
This dream-like, eerily toned film revisits a question often pondered by humans: What does it mean to be alive?
The movie brings up this sentiment verbatim just once or twice, but it’s ultimately addressed in a quiet, painful, nuanced way.
Director Jennifer Phang shows the viewer how certain aspects of our deepest selves will never be programmable. She basically asks: What if we were pressured to forfeit parts of our humanity to keep living under the social contract handed down to us? What if we refused?
Gwen, played by Jacqueline Kim, is the story’s protagonist. She works for a futuristic biomedical device company and serves as our eyes into the movie’s realm. Humankind has become a caricature of today’s political pitfalls.
Sexism plays out as women being denied positions in a failing job market because leaders believe too many unemployed men would lead to chaos. Terrorist attacks have been normalized. Citizens wander stone-faced through smoke cascading from broken buildings. There’s talk of an ideal race.
But Gwen — grappling with financial instability and all-too-familiar career worries through the complete disarray — never fails to exude the epitome of all human traits: love.
Her life centers around her daughter, a point starkly emphasized by the society’s declining fertility rates.
But how far would Gwen go to protect her child in a dismantled world operating under the facade of technological success? As it turns out, she’d go pretty far. And there is a cost.
Advantageous is a slow, slow movie. It takes patience and active detachment from the outside world to get through it. Instead of telling you a story, Phang drops just enough clues for you to uncover one on your own. Some suggest it could’ve been a short film, which I might agree with. Think Black Mirror, but even trippier.
Although the success of its pacing is debated by critics and I recall more silence than dialogue against the pastel cinematography, I was fully absorbed by every single scene 100% of the time.
Ken Jeong makes an appearance in the Asian-American family at the center of the movie, each member of which delivers a hyper immersive performance. Sadness washed over me when the characters’ eyebrows furrow in despair and I rejoiced when realizing I’d probably (hopefully?) never have to make the heartbreaking decisions asked of them.
Crafted with a shoestring budget, this movie feels like an essay on human nature. It doesn’t promise spectacular sequences of sci-fi madness, and it doesn’t even have background actors — a feature that adds to the desolate and unnerving guise of Gwen’s universe.
Her most difficult moments are overlaid with commentary about rising skyscraper profits; a homeless woman inquires about Gwen’s wellness as our main character walks past wearing stilettos and a tailored pencil dress. If you’ve seen Bo Burnham’s Netflix special Inside, you’ll know what I mean when I say during much of the film, I had “that funny feeling.”
But after the screen faded to black, I silently contemplated what I’d just witnessed, switched off my television and walked away with an odd new lens on what it means to be alive.
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