When Netflix released its Choose-Your-Own-Adventure fashioned deranged wonderland of adult video game addicts with Bandersnatch, the notion of virtual reality was carelessly toyed and mutilated. Empathy Inc by Yedidya Gorsetman is a more harrowing take this lab-tested simulation suspending the illusion of free will and human consciousness. The concept behind the dissemination of human “soul” from its inhabiting body into the body of a lesser privileged one through XVR- Extreme Virtual Reality shows a dangerous affliction with the desire of free will. You will be transmitted into a parallel time zone through a different body, wherein the events are concomitant and simultaneous; leaving a trail of disruptions in their wake. The premonition of something terrible going to happen rings from the beginning, and you get the malevolent queasiness in your stomach that accompanies you lovingly till the end.

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But why the insidious trapdoor of XVR at all? To grant a sadistic satisfaction of seeing another fellow human being writhe in multifaceted human agonies- old age, pain, hunger. In a way, XRV’s privileged clients constantly come down upon the vulnerable ones forming a vicious cycle of its own making. However, the workings of this mechanism are pretty Machiavellian than what is apparent on the stage. Before you register, you have already made a pact with the devil and sold your soul to enjoy a few minutes’ subjective reality.

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… of all the different people we are inside, who are we to be true to?

High On Films in collaboration with Avanté

The film opens with Joel Eastman-Green banging into thin air and producing a tap-tapping sound. From the beginning, this concept of wafer-thin space out of which the Divine Will carves out a gargantuan reality for us, is alluded to. The chiaroscuro effect of dark and light emphasizes the queasiness that would at once remind you of Kafka’s vision of waking up into a different body –

Empathy Inc

I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.
— Franz Kafka

Mark Leidner’s screenplay merges the comingling of light and shadow to heighten the feeling of dissociation- the sludge of murky alternative realties through which Jack Robidas (Joel) has already started to wade through. He plans to invest in a series of start-ups, all ambitious to create a merry-go-round for human lives, but nothing ever pans out. The room where the experiment of XVR takes place is bare except for metal bars, helmets resembling vacant white skulls, harsh light, and grey walls. You do not witness the warmth of domestic life in Empathy Inc.; strikingly different for a film where its protagonist’s maneuvers pivot around domestic bliss and contentment, albeit through material gains. When after a series of Faustian bargains the redemptive moment comes, you are almost choked into registering the hollow complacence that financial security often brings in.

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The film’s cast is minimal with Zack Robidas, Kathy Searle, and Jay Klaitz filling into the screen space with remarkable austerity. Not a moment seems discordant with the central theme of a wavering construct of human “happiness” forever bound to float in the eternal abyss of darkness and pain. This paranoid urge to allow a comfortable life to ourselves through technology defines our generation; billions of lives persistently scurrying after the various frayed cords coalesced into a barren whole.


Empathy Inc Trailer

Empthy Inc Links – IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes

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