PHI 1.618, 2023
May 24, 2023
This science fiction and futuristic film suggests an image of what our future could look like, but it may speak as much, or more, about our present: environmental degradation, totalitarianism, and the male-female class war.
**PHI 1.618, **released in 2023, is directed by Theodore Ushev, a Bulgarian-born filmmaker of celebrated and prize-winning animated films and short stories, one of them nominated to the Oscars (Best animated short films, 2017). The script is written from Vladislav Todorov’s unpublished novel (in English), The Spinning Top, and Todorov is also the co-writer of the script.
In the not-too-distant future, a ruling elite of BioTitans is preparing to leave our planet, as it becomes unlivable under environmental stress, among other problems. Biotitans have evolved into a-sexual and otherwise perfect individuals. Women have disappeared from their community since their members have become immortal, not needing reproduction.
Outside the space vessel, being constructed, there still exists lesser, ordinary humans, males and females, living on a desolate and mainly disorganized planet Earth.
Main character Krypton is entrusted by the soon-to-leave BioTitans with encoding all previous existing books, to make them then disappear. But his instructions are somewhat different with a certain book, and before he can follow his instructions with that particular book, a young and vivacious punk girl, Gargara, appears from the pages of the book and instructs calligrapher Krypton to follow specific instructions and complex processes to stop the Biotitans’ plan. Part of Krypton’s strategy is to find and kiss the only female that the BioTitans have kept living, the most beautiful female in the world, Fia. That kiss would be the first step to unraveling the BioTitans’ overall plan.
Follows a quite complex quest by the twosome, the calligrapher and the punk girl, for finding the beautiful surviving woman and the implementation of the kiss, which will contribute to the eventual explosion of the space vessel, before its planned voyage in space.
The film can be seen as having several dimensions: it can be seen as an environmental story, a story about power, a film about genre, men and women, to name the most probable candidates.
In recent interviews in a Montreal newspaper, director Ushev, who says he is more interested in art, aesthetics, and images than the story itself, nevertheless describes his film as having to do with totalitarianism, even if, he points out, his film was planned before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He considers that there were many advanced signals that Russian society, and possibly others, were currently veering towards totalitarianism. Without being explicit about Russia, it is suggested that it at least alludes to Russian society and to what it has become, especially in recent years, a totalitarian society, as described by director Ushev (and many others, of course).
In drawing from his film, he suggests that generally speaking, women are more identified, in our minds, to life and love, and men, to war. The goal of contemporary right-wing policies is, notes the director, to limit women’s activities and freedom, and to rule them out of social life altogether, which is achieved under the BioTitans of his film.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT FROM THE MOVIE SHRINK
Director Theodore Ushev is an artist first and foremost, and his interest is in art, images, and esthetics. He vows no goal of explaining or teaching socio-political processes.
Yet true artists speak to social themes, even without wanting to do so explicitly, sometimes by choosing material that speaks to us, as a society. They stumble, so to speak, on society, because that is where they are created from.
From this reader’s take, the film may indeed address totalitarianism, but it does so by conveying its atmosphere, its greyness, its drabness, and its aesthetics, more than its political or social content. The film’s style and esthetics also seem to suggest elements beyond political totalitarianism, elements that may have to do with technological imperialism and authority, much like some of the classic films of the XXth century, such as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) drawn from George Orwell’s novel where, there too, a couple is involved in revolting, as a tandem, against the new order, or Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936). In those films, humans, all humans, seem to be under the pressure of a mechanical and unrelenting impersonal authority, responding to demanding time pressures, often under an imperial and overlooking clock, as in the early stages of industrialization.
Does that view take away something from the social pertinence of the film? Not at all, since this totalitarian model of the machine and all things mechanical have found their way into our politics, and especially our totalitarian regimes, by being insensitive to human responses and legitimate desires. In a quite enigmatic way, the punk girl, Gargara, often explains the goings on by an intriguing remark which, translated into English, would mean something like: “It’s bodily”.
As far as understanding Russia itself (or maybe any totalitarian society, for that matter) is concerned, let us say that the task is as daunting today as it was when, three decades ago, almost no expert predicted the fall of Soviet Russia before it occurred. So, we may just as well look at films to understand today’s tragic Russia than read from academic expertise. We could start with Ushev’s film, which probably tells us a lot about the atmosphere and the aesthetics of totalitarianism, and continue this search with more standard stories, such as Russian films like* Leviathan* (2014), Taxi Blues (1990) and Stalker (1979), or novels such as Limonov (2013), soon to be released as a film in Limonov, The Ballad of Eddie (2023).
In conclusion, PHI 1.618 is a film that suggests much about the aesthetics and style of totalitarianism, in a format and style that is very coherent all through. It may not attract, immediately, a strong viewership, but it is a film that will grow on its viewers and will stay in their thoughts for some time.