The Surreality of Reality

Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane is a Kafka-esque, capitalist nightmare for the iPhone age, injected with Brechtian aesthetics to convey the 21st century’s pervasive, conflicting distortions of reality sitting in our pockets every day.

At a time when many feel that “everything’s been done before” in art, artists must inherit age-old themes and make them new for their contemporaries. How to sanely depict an insane world has inspired countless artists from generation to generation, including Kafka and Brecht. But to communicate this idea in a distinctly 21st century register, Soderbergh radically altered conventional ways to depict that reality, namely through the iPhone cinematography and the alien acting. As such, crude mobile visuals are intrinsic to movie’s meaning and what it’s trying to achieve.

The foreignness of these elements has a push-pull effect. They drastically thwart the audience’s normal expectations when it comes to how fictional movies should reflect factual reality, mirroring how the world feels crazy to the lead character (The Crown‘s Claire Foy). This noticeable mis-en-scene both immerses the audience in her psychology AND acts as a sort of  deterrent against becoming totally absorbed in the movie’s reality. We’re always aware that we’re watching a movie, thus allowing us to retain a more Brechtian perspective throughout regarding the meaning of what we’re watching. This isn’t supposed to be a depiction of reality as it looks to the naked eye; rather, we’re watching an experiential exploration of reality as an allegory.

Every actor, every gesture, and every moment, just feels off from what we expect from customary movies. When you’re given every indicator that we’re dealing with conflicting and conflicted realities, trying to figure out WHAT REALLY HAPPENED is almost besides the point. Instead, we should be asking ourselves why Soderbergh decided to show us what we’re witnessing.

Thus the reason why the popular desire to find plot holes irks me. Movies need not operate by our inherently-limited corporeal logic; only their own. It’s an artist’s duty to make us believe their reality, but too often audiences simply project their reality onto all art they consume, even if they’re given ample signifiers that this isn’t reality as much as it is about reality.


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