A mother and a daughter in an apartment, listening to the women crying on the floors above and below. A homeless girl in the bushes, warning a passerby to take whatever work she can get.
These are the kinds of quiet-yey-powerful scenes you’ll see in Advantageous, a low-budget indie film that’s now available for streaming on Netflix.
It is riveting, emotionally gripping, and offers up a vision of the future that is disturbingly easy to picture, even as some of the technologies it imagines seem out of reach.
It’s also the best sci-fi movie I’ve seen in a long time.
The film tells the story of a future world where jobs have been automated even more than they are today, women have been largely forced out of the workplace (the logic: they will be less violent while living on the streets than men), and opportunities for quality education are cutthroat.
“It’s hinted at that middle management has become artificial intelligence, and there are fewer and fewer people in the middle income bracket. The people you do see are either impoverished and disenfranchised or are hidden in the upper floors, the protected places,” says director Jennifer Phang.
Then there’s Gwen Koh, a single mother with a 13-year-old daughter who lives in a generic urban center that resembles New York CIty. Gwen is the face of the Center for Advanced Health and Living, a corporation that offers next-generation health and beauty treatments.
When her job security is threatened — the Center has decided that she looks too old — Gwen is forced to undergo one of those experimental treatments in order to make enough cash to keep her daughter at a prestigious school.
Technology in Gwen’s world is far ahead of where we are now — a new technology is emerging that can supposedly transport a person’s consciousness into another body — but women have fallen far behind. There just aren’t enough jobs to go around.
There is a palpable sense of unease throughout the film, with outdoor scenes punctuated by explosions in the sky — an indication that terrorism in the U.S. has become commonplace.
“The world of Advantageous is kind of an augmented now, but it’s not a representation of what’s happening now,” says Phang. “In the future of Advantageous, there possibly would have been some sort of event that turned the United States into a country that had to be on its toes, that had to have a heightened sense of awareness. I don’t think it’s that big of a stretch.”
By the end of the movie, when Gwen has sacrificed herself to retain her job and her daughter’s prospects for the future, it also becomes clear that morality has taken a backseat in most people’s lives.
Why is it so easy to imagine that future? Phang has a good guess: “I think we’re becoming a society that’s intellectual — a lot is online, text-based, and everything is carefully constructed for internet consumption. I think what the film is looking at is, how does that morality evolve as we move forward?”
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