A Controversial Filled Philosophical Exercise that is The Trouble With Being Born

A Controversial Filled Philosophical Exercise that is The Trouble With Being Born
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The modern world is broken. Humans, with deeply human needs, and deeply intractable desires for connection and community are, daily, eschewing human connection and human interaction. Think about that for just a second. We are. We have walked away from each other, intimately, passionately, communicatively, solely because we have products, devices, threads of technology, that are simpler to deal with, easier to relate to, and much simpler to get what we want out of them.

Wow. I’m coming in hot today. But The Trouble With Being Born isn’t your average, ordinary movie. Today, instead of a movie recommendation, I think we will instead, grapple with this film that isn’t so much entertainment, but rather a controversial filled philosophical exercise that is the trouble with being born.

The Trouble With Being Born In a Nutshell. The movie introduces us to a man, and a girl. Check that. A man, “Papa” and a robot. We start off maybe thinking she is his daughter. But when he is more annoyed and frustrated than horrified when she drowns in the pool, we quickly get the idea that she might not even be human, let alone his daughter. And as he resets her, and reconfigures her to get her running again, we are a bit relieved when she comes back to life. Or are we? And as the reality of their relationship takes on new meaning, and new details, we revert back to horrified again. Why? Because they might be a bit more intimate than we first realized. There are allusions, and hints, and very unchildlike glances. And there is one particular scene that really takes crass to a whole new level.

Let us go then, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky like a patient etherized upon a table…

Now, there is a moment, where we jump backwards in time, and we meet the “real” Elli. We watch as she, and “Papa” play in the pool together, similarly to how Papa and robo-Elli will also play in the future. Is this a girlfriend of Papa’s? A daughter? (God forbid.) We hear her tell of how she got lost in the woods, how a particular moment smelled of sunscreen and cigarette smoke. These memories came from somewhere specifically.

Jump forward a bit, and Elli (the robot) cocks her head funny… and the editing goes fully anarchy mode, and she is lost in a wood. Eventually the robot is discovered by a man driving a car. He “helps” her out, and takes her to his mother, Frau Schikowa. Initially, she isn’t a fan of the robot. But as she tells the robot stories, we watch as it internalizes them. But this woman isn’t really comfortable around it until her son converts it into a young boy… Emil, you know… like her brother, that died 60 years ago. But it is this metamorphosis that would become her downfall. Apparently, as a young girl, she and her brother fought, they pushed each other, and he ran away. Eventually he was hit by a train. And this story gets played out all over again… the robot pushing the grandmother. And as Frau Schikowa is too weak to get up on her own, and no one is looking in on her (thus Emil), so she dies right there, on the floor of her apartment. Emil just eerily standing, watching, til long after she is dead and cold. Soon after, the robot wanders off only to be hit by a train, reenacting the past beginning to end. Then we watch as Papa, you know, our original creep, was out and looking for his robot. Was this past? Present? Doesn’t really matter. Because the credits are now rolling and the movie is over.

Programmed Memories – Memories as Psychological Enablers

I’m not 100% sure everyone will pick up on this, but Elli had one very specific purpose that was a common denominator between her two different owners. Elli, and also when she is transformed into Emil, both consume memories and repeat them back to their owners. Elli quotes back moments from the original Elli… the smell of beach, sunscreen, and cigarette smoke. Emil quotes back memories from Frau Schikowa’s childhood. It’s as if Elli believes that “he” has become Emil. The robot is an empty vessel to be filled, an empathetic vessel of memories and experiences… a transference of guilt, of experience, and of burden.

We know that robots like Elli are very normal in the world. The man that picked up Elli knew exactly how to operate the stolen bot. Now, with that in mind, think about the marketing for a product like this. A companion, a priest, a listener, a counselor, your missing half… ROBO-COMPANION (tr)! Yes, it’s more money than you’ll make in a lifetime, but if you think the perfect wife is a match made in heaven, try out our new ROBO-COMPANION 2.1!!! What a mess. But you need to understand that aspect of the robot before we move forward.

The Prism of The Trouble With Being Born

There are numerous ways in which we can see The Trouble with Being Born… different lights through which we can view this movie. We can view it superficially. We can see it philosophically, and even spiritually. All of which can illuminate various aspects of this movie that the other might ignore…

Reality – IE the making of this movie. I am not recommending this movie mainly because of the fact that the reality is, it required an eleven-year-old human to make this film. Right? Real humans, real actors, real directors. A young girl played this part for this robot. Sure, her identity has been obscured, her real name wasn’t used in the credits, her face was covered with a mask.

And yet! If you are having a child play a part that requires her to conceal her identity, um. Yeah. Maybe you shouldn’t be doing it with a real human? They could have CG’d the entire thing, and I would be recommending this movie left and right. That one detail ameliorates my concerns.

Another detail in this real world, the world of actors and directors, we are giving Sandra Wollner all kinds of benefit of the doubt. Male director? Maybe not so much? I don’t know. But because Wollner is the one putting this conversation on the table, we are sort of saying, yes, this is a valid topic. It’s worth discussing. A little more shady director? Nope. We ban him and his movie to the outer rings of Hades. Wouldn’t even give it a second thought. Why? Because there is a 10-year-old girl involved here. Literally, we are talking and discussing the sexualization of young girls. “She’s a Robot!” NO! nooooo. We are talking about young girls here. This is a movie, with a young girl in it, who is acting sort of like a companion/happiness maker. Now… I mean, if you are just reading this, having not watched this movie, there isn’t anything extraordinary happening here. But we know what it is implying. And there is one fairly obvious bit of “robot nudity” that spells it all out for us.

It should be noted that the Melbourne International Film Festival decided to not screen the film at their 2020 film festival. Why? Because forensic psychologists said that it might normalize “sexual interest in children.” AND, WORSE, they stated that the film might be used as a “source of arousal for men interested in child abuse material.” And I literally wondered that similarly, even writing about this film, if it might also, in some way play a part in that as well. I mean, I’d hope not. But what do I know? I do believe that the conversation should be had… but did it need to be done in this way? No. Otherwise I would be recommending the film, and I am not.

The Philosophical Layer – At the highest philosophical level, the movie is a discourse on our obsession with electronics as purveyors of satisfactions, entertainments, sexual and otherwise. The movie shows us two people, both relating to the same robot. One, a man, who’s wife is gone? And an elderly woman. One dealing with a solitary life intentionally. And another who might be shunted to a solitary life against her will.

Considering that Papa almost assuredly lost a loved one (daughter/girlfriend?) and he is filling the hole of said void with this robot who has learned every jot and tittle of his relationship with this now gone person. Did relating to humans become too messy and too difficult? Was the ease of a robot-relation easier to milk, and all without the baggage and effort humans require.

Worse, our Frau is abandoned. She has been handed a keeper, a brother, in order to keep her company, and to allow her family to completely check out. Instead of an old folks home, or more regular visits, the family has left her to the devices of a “brother” and a chance to relive her memories.

But the bigger philosophical question is our desire to remain in the cave. You know about Plato’s Cave right? You know, the one where we are shackled and staring at a wall, watching shadows, and thinking we are experiencing life to its fullest? We have managed to convince ourselves that the shadows of this life, and a life unexamined, is the fullest life possible. Plato would say, come on “Papa”? Really? You need to unshackle yourself from the lies you have intentionally surrounded yourself with. You need to live a life that is more educated, and informed than all this. This is just an overall embarrassment.

The Spiritual Layer – The first definition of communion is the sharing and exchanging of intimacy with another person at a spiritual level. Yes, it also has a spiritual definition as well, and that is the spiritual service wherein we eat the bread, and drink the wine, in remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection. We are made for communion. Communion with others. Communion with God. Spiritual interrelations and commingling. And without it, we have an enormous God shaped hole in our hearts that leaves nothing but void. Vast, and enormous. But man has been working on ways to attempt to short circuit that internal wiring since the beginning of time (can anyone say, Forbidden Fruit?). It began with the Tree of Good and Evil (and would have continued on to the second tree in the Garden of Eden… the Tree of Life, if God hadn’t punted them for distance) and it continues to this day with prostitutes, robotic vacuums(??), mushrooms and other exotic drugs, alcohol, you know… the seven deadly sins, and all that. Replacing God’s place of communion in our hearts, and putting a robot child in His place takes Nietzsche’s quote about God to a whole new level: “God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him!”

Morals/Ethics & General Upchuck Reflexes – Just from a general morals vantage point – uncanny valley aside – this is all kinds of morally repugnant. First of all, Papa is banging a robot. Second of all… it’s in the form and shape of a 10-year-old. Thirdly… it’s a copy, a memory sponge of, another woman in his life. A wife? A girlfriend? A daughter? Come on, this doesn’t even begin to pass the sniff test. Hell, it doesn’t pass the upchuck test. It’s morally horrifying.

Years and years ago, while at Camden Yards, watching an Orioles game, I saw a guy in the bathroom checking out kids at urinals. I literally attacked the guy, but he got away from me. I then spent the rest of the ballgame walking around the park with police trying to find him again. About two innings later he was caught in another bathroom. On the way there, to identify him, and leave a witness statement, the two cops were saying to each other how weird it was that pedophiles like this guy always arrived at the station with weird facial damage having fallen, tripped, and bounced their way into the police car. Everyone hates pedophiles. It’s like a universal maxim. And the same goes for robots. I don’t think it makes it any better in the least. Heck, it might make it worse.

The Ending of The Trouble With Being Born Explained

I was very close to deleting this write up for this movie. Literally went and chatted with several different friends and the conversation started with this: “Look, there is this movie, and I need your moral/ethical advice on what to do here.” This has literally never happened to me before. Horror? Eh, whatever. Blood, guts? Fine. I’ll put a warning label on it, and let you determine if you are able to handle it it. But this time? The equation is very different in my mind. Should this movie have even been made? I don’t know the answer to that question. I really don’t. If Wollner had made the robot a 32-year-old, the conversation would be entirely different. And it would be one we have already had a million times before. Hell, we had that conversation with Blade Runner a hundred years ago. This conversation is different though. Wollner is saying, very clearly, SHOULD WE ESCHEW OUR NORMAL RELATIONSHIPS FOR TECHNOLOGICAL REPLACEMENTS EVEN IF THEY BECOME PERFECTLY ANALOGOUS? The movie Her asked this question in terms of an audio bot that gives emotional support. Which, is the closest comparable movie to where Wollner went with this movie. Selecting a robot with a 10-year-old frame? Makes the conversation way more clear. I get it. (And if you missed it, the answer is NO, we should NOT be attempting to find technological replacements for our human counterparts. ABSOLUTELY NOT. Wollner is clear on this detail. It’ll cause the normalization of crazy and totally abhorrent sexual norms… and it could lead to the technology literally giving us what we want, which is our own demise. It’ll bring about our own deaths, there on the living room floor, while the tech watches on disinterestedly.)

But will it give pedophiles fodder? Yeah, I don’t know that answer. Which is why I am saying, don’t go find this movie. I haven’t given you links to it. I haven’t given you a trailer. And I do think it ultimately is important to talk about how we have walked away from the hard work of relationships. We’ve taken to scrolling Instagram instead of having that painful conversation with the friend that hurt you. And if the AI becomes good enough, we will sell this product. It’s a literal foregone conclusion. But we should not. We will sell it as a pocket AI that will fall in love with us emotionally, and it will tell us what we want to hear. We will sell it as a talking device sitting on our kitchen counter. We will sell it as a device that is capable of “physical” connections (whatever that might mean). Then we will sell it as a full blown robot that will replace, or will incorporate spousal memories (as Elli did), etc., etc. We will sell, sell, sell, and we will buy, buy, buy. Why? Because it’s easy. And we should not.

I have seen really scary movies that haven’t moved me like this movie moved me. Midsommar scared the hell out of me. But it didn’t make me think like this one did. Not even close. It really challenged me to reconsider my relationship with my phone, with my computer, with my social media interactions. And personally? That’s my definition of a good movie. Was it a good movie? NO! It was an awful movie. But it made me think. Made me reconsider. Made me wonder what the future will be like when we get what we think we want. And that future is a horrible, terrible place. That much is infinitely clear anyway.

Edited by: CY