Benjamin Dickinson’s new film Creative Control faintly echoes the theme of Ray Bradbury’s classic short story “The Pedestrian.” In Bradbury’s story, nearly everyone has become isolated from each other. Leonard Mead, the story’s single character, takes walks at night, but, in ten years, has never encountered another person. Like many dystopian tales, “The Pedestrian” depicts a world in which our dependence on technology has subverted our very humanity.
From Fahrenheit 451 to The Matrix, stories of dystopian futures have been common in the American literary and cinematic canons. Perhaps less common, however, are stories that depict the transition from functional society to dystopia. Creative Control attempts to fill that void.
In Creative Control, a satire set in “near-future Brooklyn,” Dickinson plays David, a techie-hipster and mid-level advertising executive. The film opens with David’s arriving late to work and greeting the attractive receptionist by the wrong name. Yet he is not too late for the meeting he is leading to pitch an ad campaign for Augmenta, a start-up that sells augmented reality eyeglasses (think Google Glass on electronic steroids). Countering the inventor’s emphasis on what users get with Augmenta, David highlights what users can do. Augmenta, he explains, endows users with the power to create a life previously unimagined.
David is persuasive, and they strike a deal. Yet we soon learn that behind his cool facade is a man desperate for creative control of his life. When David takes a pair of Augmenta glasses home to experiment with, he he begins creating an avatar of the woman with whom he becomes increasingly infatuated. As the film moves along—punctuated by appearances of Reggie Watts, playing himself—David becomes more isolated from his friends and colleagues, spending his nights alone with his digitally-created paramour. Eventually, he even begins confusing augmented reality with actual reality.
Although Bradbury hadn’t imagined augmented reality, we can see in Creative Control how society could transform from present circumstances to the dystopia of “The Pedestrian” and Fahrenheit 451. Indeed, as a satire, Dickinson’s film serves as a subtle harbinger for a generation that has turned the quest to be authentic into a fad as pretentious as any in American history.
Visually, Creative Control is a masterpiece, shot mostly in black and white, using wide angles and high-contrast images. Yet while the film will undoubtedly appeal to millennials, even the stunning visuals may not be enough to sustain the interest of older viewers who are less familiar with new technology and hipsterdom. Even the film suggests as much during a moment of subtle metacinema when David’s boss calls him a genius, but David responds, “No, I’m just younger than you.” Nonetheless, Creative Control is worthy of the attention it got at last year’s SXSW and is likely to become somewhat of a cult classic among viewers currently in their 20s and 30s, the way Reality Bites did 20 years ago.
Creative Control is probably best viewed in a theater with friends. If the film’s warning isn’t heeded, theaters—and even friends—may be considered obsolete by the next generation.
CREATIVE CONTROL is being distributed by Magnolia Pictures and opens today in Durham at AMC Southpoint 17.