“Humans can only grasp change at a rate they’ve experienced”
In an interview with Variety, Jacqueline Kim, who co-wrote the 2015 sci-fi drama Advantageous with the film’s director Jennifer Phang, stated that the film aims for “domestic sci-fi”. By that very definition, the prism through which we should perceive it has to be modified and individualised. However, that process may prove easier in theory than in practice.
In a future, in which women have trouble getting pregnant and physical looks thwart wisdom, Gwen (Jacqueline Kim) struggles to make ends meet. She also has the added responsibility of providing for her daughter Jules (Samantha Kim). At her wits’ end, she is cajoled into being the spokesperson for an experimental procedure, during which one’s consciousness is transferred into a new host. In order to comply with the demands of the job, she has to undergo the operation herself, despite the numerous safety and ethical dilemmas that accompany it. Desperate to forgo everything she holds dear for her daughter, Gwen will have to make a choice – and the ultimate sacrifice.
The film is intimate in its embodiment of the eerie, isolating pressure to be more, do more and achieve more. The futile meaning behind such an existence reverberates in the silence that cuts the edges off the few words that are exchanged between dispassionate lips. The soft echo of these pained observations come across as the hollow composition of a detached dream. It jabs away at the heart, pumping existentialist musings into a reflective mind. In tune with the metallic sadness that the film evokes, we are faced with elusive intricacies of the plot that float out of our reach, forever teasing our drowsy understanding of the film’s laconic dialogue.
The quivering camera and jarringly cut angles give Advantageous a raw feel, but one that lacks the depth of the techinique it’s trying to lose itself in. Stuck in the shallow parameters of the breached topic, the film’s execution reflects the low-budget production it has been confined to. The uneasiness of the action-free film is encapsulated in Jules’ words: “I think I just heard myself blink.” It is with such placidity that we must approach the otherwise chilling and thought-provoking idea of humans effectively becoming an alien form in the eyes of their equally human hosts.
Instead of wandering off in that direction, the story obstinately remains on the trajectory it marked for itself at the start of the film, portraying a deteriorating relationship between a mother and her daughter. That complete dismissal of the suspense and tension that could have otherwise been woven into the emotional fabric of the story results in the audience being somewhat invested in the characters’ growth, but not their actual fates.
And yet, with its haunting question regarding the extent to which we tie our identity to our looks and self-perception, the film is not without its merit. Its intense focus on a mother’s love is equally compelling. However, not enough care was taken to fill the plotholes that we keep stumbling into, despite out best efforts to stay upright. And so, our memory of Advantageous shall pass, but hopefully not the ideas it nurtures throughout.
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