I sat down last evening, thinking to myself that I need to go back to watching movies and writing about them. Sometimes I push myself. I force myself to put on reviewer’s glasses and absorb everything. Even before I reach the halfway point in a movie – the part where things should be making sense, the part where you think you know how you’ll end your review, the part where a critic’s eye becomes almost unnecessary – what I mean is, the process becomes effortless. And my god do I love that. You’d imagine a change of surrounding would do so much more for your writing. But my inspiration is a big ball of wool that I can’t quite unravel. I’m getting there. Undoing knots a few layers at a time.
I went back to my list “To Watch, And Probably Review” which at this point has over 63 movies. If only my ambition could translate into reality. Anyway, missing so many movies that got nominated for the Academy’s, I watched it halfheartedly. I declared that Boyhood should have won all the awards. I tweeted about what the stars wore on the red carpet (I’ll admit in retrospect, I’m a bit ashamed now) and the jokes that were cracked. I dismissed the awards and that they didn’t hold anything for me. Who was I kidding, I just wasn’t prepared for them like every year. So to redeem myself, I’m going in the ascending order of my list and somehow The Heart Machine happened to be the oldest record on the list. I will try my best to review the less heard of movies because at this point I’m too late to review the likes of Birdman, Selma, Life Itself, etc and say anything that you don’t already know.
Honestly, I was so afraid going into this movie. Somewhere at the back of my mind I knew exactly where this was going to take me when the first scene panned into perspective. Hazy, discotheque lights, a hum of music that is borderline annoying, strobe lights, bodies rubbing against each other (or what you may call a form of dancing?), and finally an ordinary looking man, sitting alone in this dimly lit, party place with a phone in his hand. Key word here being ‘alone’.
The man in question is Cody (John Gallagher Jr.), an average 20-something living in Brooklyn, at a crossroads in his life, working on commission basis which also sometimes means not really working at all. Cody comes across as a person with a fairly simple understanding of things and doesn’t have any shining characteristics that I can possibly outline to make him seem different from your regular 20 something year old. Cody is a part of the generation that relies heavily on the Internet for communication and information as a means of finding semblance in his life. He meets a beautiful, doe-eyed girl named Virginia (Kate Lyn Sheil) on an online dating website and after a pleasant initial encounter they plan to go steady with each other. What this movie emphasizes on, that I find a bit ridiculous is how Virginia being in Berlin and Cody in New York is such a huge, huge problem.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for long-distance-met-the-man-of-my-dreams-on-the-world-wide-web scenario. The Heart Machine weaves in a very great ambiguity about this distance that honestly makes no sense to me.
So Cody and Virginia have faith in their relationship and commit to each other. They share the normal Skype sessions and there is a lot that they talk over the internet that I don’t find many couples talking about when they see each other on a regular basis. We take for granted proximity, we assume that people will always be around and that that funny incident from earlier in the day can wait until there are more listeners. Long-distance relationships put that all in perspective.
Virginia on one hand has dirty secrets of her own. She’s far from faithful to Cody and has herself up for grabs on various other online media. There are hook-up apps and missed connections and somehow the ways and means of getting someone to come to you at any given time of day are endless. None of this feels like I’m spoiling anything for you. The timeline of the movie is not linear and that comes to light soon enough. So there’s no surprise when you find Virginia roaming streets that seem less like Berlin but more like New York.
I believe the movie being shown from the perspective of Cody may put all the harsh light on Virginia’s promiscuity. But for the life of me, I couldn’t stand him. I just couldn’t. Cody soon begins to doubt that maybe Virginia isn’t in Berlin. Instead of questioning and cross-questioning her, he stalks her social media to figure out for himself. He goes to obnoxious lengths and exhibits crazy stalker behaviour. All of this, for someone who he’s in a committed relationship with, Skype video calls daily, loves and you’d automatically assume, trusts.
And that’s why The Heart Machine frightened me. Love need not be synonymous to trust and like Cody puts it, “It’s the not knowing that kills me”.
I’m unsure about the message Heart Machine is trying to project. It doesn’t so much as warn about the perils of online relationships as much as determines that obsessing over someone you love and constantly doubting them is not healthy. That not always knowing things is okay and that the digital age is constantly trying to counter that. I fail to see why The Heart Machine could be compared to brilliant pieces of cinema such as Spike Jonze’s Her, the movie trailer is misleading and unlike Her there are no heart-wrenching moments, beautiful cinematography or likeable characters. The Heart Machine drags and lulls and tries very hard to not be a cliché and in the process ends up being exactly that.
I will say to its credit that the movie ends as it should and I wouldn’t change a thing about the ending. Yes, it’s tragic but nonetheless quite appropriate. Watch The Heart Machine keeping in mind it does not have much to its credit except that its an indie movie and that even if it doesn’t do great things for you, you won’t really be able to make yourself forget it.