Saturday, April 3, 2010

"For the Man Who Has Everything": 2040 (2009)

Thanks to Daniel at Roads to Moscow for sending this my way (and a very fine DVD package it is, I might add - 4 discs, in very impressive packaging). I have owed this review to him and the peeps at Wicked for a long, long time. Better late than never though, I hope, and right in time for the 2010 XRCO Awards which are taking place April 29th. 2040 is nominated for three awards, including Best Epic, and Brad Armstrong is nominated for best director of the year (y'all know I would have been rooting for Stormy, but she ain't even nominated for best director - wtf?).

This film got a lot of hype building up to its release, touted as "a high-tech step into the world of tomorrow featuring authentic props and sets from some of today's finest A-budget sci-fi flicks." Crikey! Wicked are really proud of this one, and in a lot of ways they should be. Of course, being a feature made in 2009, I had some issues, but more on that later. Lets get down to business.

The concept behind this film intrigued me -- it's the year 2040, and an STD epidemic has rendered sex between humans obsolete. Masturbation is the only form of sex, so inevitably pornography is thriving, but using "anabots" rather than humans. Smaller porno companies have shut down due to a "porn tax" and "government intrusion," and corporate porn dominates. Our focus is the underground porn scene, run by rebels. This is rather ironic, being a Wicked pic and all, but a neat prediction of the future nonetheless.

I must admit, as the the film developed over the first half hour or so, I started getting a creepy feeling that the gender politics underpinning the plot were not exactly kosher. The opening scene, featuring Alexis Texas as your run-of-the-mill anabot, and a human - Randy Spears' son (played by Randy Spears) - starts off with a sensual blow job, which I was pleased about considering the dearth of anything other than aggressive and slobbering BJs these days, but I soon discovered the reason: the anabot is just warming up, and pretty soon we have your standard New Millenium BJ. With that said, it was refreshing to see narrative and sex integrated, and Alexis is always a joy. What started giving me a sicky feeling is the moment when the anabot malfunctions and basically drops dead. Randy sighs, noting, "They're not built for this," to which the director responds, "That's all they're built for." They prop her lifeless body up, and Randy fucks her in the mouth until he cums.

The scene is emblematic of an underlying concern in pornography - that women are merely holes to be fucked, and subhuman at best. At this point in the film, I was still unsure as to what the film was trying to say about this issue it had consciously raised, but certainly at this early point, Armstrong is prompting some important questions: are these anabots the dream porn star? They're not human, don't have any feelings to worry about, and you can use them like pieces of meat. In addition, the film seems to be questioning porn performance and the "artifice" of sexuality in these films. Finally, I wondered why Armstrong chose to have the lead male porn star be a human - perhaps the suggestion that male sexuality, and male sexual performance, could be improved by technology hit a little too close to home?

The majority of my questions were answered later in this 3hr+ epic, so more on that later. Marcus London plays an anabot designer who used to work for the Big Company, RDI, but got fired when he started insisting the anabots were learning to become more human by themselves. So, he started his own indie company and developed a prototype, Mira (Alektra Blue), who is more lifelike and human than any other anabot. She sweats, her skin responds to touch, she self-lubricates, and her vaginal diameter is adjustable "for that perfect fit." Again, I'm thinking, "Oh lord...the perfect woman. Sigh." Anyway, plotwise, Brad Armstrong, CEO of RDI, thinks he is entitled to rights over this new anabot, and will do anything to get them, but Marcus is putting up a fight.

Things get more interesting when it turns out that male anabots are also being developed (significantly by female scientists, Kirsten Price for Marcus' company, and Mikayla Mendez for the corporate RDI). Naturally, they test out their product, and the inkling that these models might be in development causes a degree of anxiety for the human males in the film. As Kirsten smirks to Randy, "Getting a little nervous?" This certainly resolves some of the conflicts I had earlier, but still the focus of the narrative is on a "real" man and an "improved" woman - one for "the man who has everything."

jessica drake's character - RDI's right-hand woman, but also friend and lover of Marcus, not to mention distant sympathizer of the dehumanized anabots - engenders the most complex and progressive elements of the plot. Talking with Mikayla, the "resident Gepetto" of RDI, jessica admits that Mikayla's predecessor was fired for believing the anabots were starting to think and feel like humans. Mikayla has noticed this too, but jessica explains, RDI wanted a doll that was "lifelike on the outside, but on the inside, they wanted a simple machine," one that is "easy to control." It's not a stretch to think about this as analogous to the situation of female porn performers in the real world. This conversation, significantly between two women who work for a corporate porn-supplying company, highlights an attitude often devoid of empathy toward workers who use their bodies. The film seems to suggest, in fact, that we destigmatize and rehumanize women sex workers.

Still, it's a little more ambiguous than this. Mira is the anabot that causes all of these conversations to take place, and it is she who catches Randy's eye and heart. Randy dismissively comments earlier on in the film, "You fuck one mecha, you've fucked them all. Kinda like a toaster," but clearly Mira is more to him than a mere toaster; she's something different, more advanced, and perhaps more worthy of our empathy. At one point in the film, towards the end, Mira is waiting for Kirsten in a heavily-mirrored bathroom, and starts to become disorientated. She starts spinning around, tapping at her reflections, muttering, "Too many. Too many." It's as if Mira is faced with the grim reality that she is mass-producable, capable of being copied and traded out for another body that is exactly the same. In effect, she is expendable and easily replaceable. This scenario for real-life, objectified women, the film suggests, should not be the case. These anabots are special and unique just like any other physical performer.

Yet, at the same time, Mira's exceptional status simultaneously hints that only the special "anabots," the high-class "anabots," who are more advanced and talented than their peers earn the right to be treated with such empathy. If this is the case, what does this suggest about the "toasters" such as Alexis Texas' anabot in the beginning of the film? Are these women more easily disposable? Also, Mira's ability, later in her evolution, to tell the difference between mere droid sex and making love elevates her to some kind of ideal feminine position. I'm still thinking these implications through, but at the moment I wonder if this is something associated with the "Madonna/Whore" dichotomy that so unfairly and destructively shapes women's sexual selves. Mira's sense of shame and unhappiness about her mechanical sex work, and the goodies' desire to "save" her from corporate porn, would seem to corroborate this.

Ultimately, 2040 has a lot to say about sex and porn, and a lot of it is confusing and contradictory. This means there is a lot to think about though, which is refreshing, and I'm happy to be able to say that the film made me think about some pretty serious feminist issues, at the same time as providing an ending that celebrates female camaraderie and strength (something that is pitifully rare). Even if the loose ends and ideas didn't quite tie up neatly in my mind, I guess it's a compliment to the film that I will be mulling this one over for some time.


X-Ray Specs said...

I'm about 1/2 way through 2040, so I'll have to read your comments later on the movie. I look forward to reading your review in the near future and see your thoughts on the movie. The 1/2 that I have seen so far was a lot better than I was expecting it to be.

Gore-Gore Girl said...

Great! Be sure to come back and let me know what you think.

T.L Bugg said...

This sounds really interesting. I'm going to have to track this one down.

Gore-Gore Girl said...

Thanks for stopping by Bugg - be sure to report back!


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