This weekend I am sans my smart phone. It died an early death on Friday and my replacement will be delivered Monday. Yes I miss my occasional Ruzzle games, but I really miss knowing what time it is. Yup. My smart phone (SP) has replaced not only my watch, but my land line and the hand written calendar I used to keep. My SP is never far from my hand–except now.
It’s a minor adjustment, really, but it makes me wonder how much more we will become reliant on technology in the coming years. Wearable tech is coming. Will it lead to integrated tech? Would you want a chip in your wrist that would let you unlock your door, start your car, and pay for things with a wave of the hand? Ten years ago I would have said people would never go for that. Now I think it will be a natural progression for many people. There will also be those who lash out against the idea.
Earlier this summer, filmmaker Trevin Matcek contacted me about the short film he had made as part of the ongoing Future States series. The issue of backlash against robotics is one of the elements of his powerful movie AS YOU WERE. It’s about a soldier who, after losing an arm and leg in battle, is fitted with robotic prosthetics. When he returns home for the first time in years, he struggles to reconnect with his family and a society suspicious of robotics.
In his message Trevin said “It’s got giant mechs, killer drones, cyborg love and a little girl addicted to Virtual Reality.” He went on to explain “ultimately, it’s a film about robotics and how the technology can be used to boost the quality of life for people who have suffered physical traumas. It also touches on questions regarding the ethics, advantages, disadvantages to humans incorporating bionics in the work force and society at large.” At that point I thought, Dude, you had me at cyborg love.
I went to the link he provided and watched the film with keen interest and not “just” for the cyborg love. I’m not exactly sure why, but these issues are particularly interesting and poignant to me. Whatever the reason, I was seriously impressed with the movie and of course I loved the romantic aspect of a husband trying to reconnect with his wife and children. They are wonderfully played by Trey Holland and Christine Woods (HBO’s Hello Ladies).
After falling in love with the short, I did something I rarely do when things like this come to me, I wrote him with tons of questions. I was super pleased when he responded. I’m giving you most of the interview below the embedded short. I hope you enjoy the short as much as I did and that you’ll be intrigued enough to read through the interview as well. Really great stuff in there.
Charlee: How did the idea for this short start?
Trevin: My idea for As You Were was inspired when runner Oscar Pistorious qualified for the 2012 Olympic Games. Because he had two prosthetic legs, people questioned if he should participate – not because he was disabled, but because he was enabled by his limbs. His prosthetics weren’t based on human anatomy but on antelope design. To some, he had this huge advantage. It got me thinking about a future where people may opt for these enhancements and how it could become an issue of the haves vs. the have nots, impact the workforce and more.
I had also been thinking a lot about the last two wars America has been involved in. More soldiers are surviving compared to past wars, but have been returning home as amputees. I’m fascinated with these extraordinary people who are able to break into this post-human realm, not by choice but by necessity.
Charlee: I work for a company that works with researchers doing (among other things) Brain-Machine Interface work. The most practical and immediate application for that technology could be for better prosthetics for injured soldiers (although I’m hearing more about commercial applications these days). Knowing more soldiers lost limbs in the last decade’s wars than lost their lives, how did this factor in to the direction of this short?
Trevin: I thought a lot about this from a soldier’s perspective. I also had the privilege of speaking to veterans as part of my research process, including Tristan Wyatt, chief of prosthetics at the Veterans Administration. Tristan lost his leg in Iraq and was willing to share his journey mentally, emotionally and technologically with me. I also interviewed soldiers young and old about their transitions coming back from battle and reintegrating back into society. Their stories and experiences inspired my character Johnner Rawls – a soldier who returns home from war with a new arm and leg. Their insight was invaluable and without it, I couldn’t have done the character or the story justice.
Charlee: Watching As You Were, I really got a sense that some thought about our military men and women went into it. The scene with the many employers thanking this soldier for his service then turning him away rang sadly true. How far into the future did you intend this short to be set?
Trevin: As part of the Futurestates series, all of the writer-directors worked together to create a timeline to offer some consistency to this world. We set the time period at around 2029, where many people predict the Singularity will occur. In speaking with veterans, the whole “Thank you for you service” was cringe-inducing for them to hear sometimes, because it seemed like an obligatory statement that had to be said by civilians. Out of any scene in the film, that one seems to get the most laughs from veterans because it rings true.
Charlee: In my opinion two of the things SciFi does best are to 1) remove modern day problems from the reality of contemporary settings and place them in a setting where we can look at them with a bit more objectively and 2) look at the impact and morality of technological advances. This short seems to do both and well and without undercutting the human story. Can you share any thoughts on how you achieved this balance or where you placed your priorities?
Trevin: Thanks so much for recognizing that! Much of my work gravitates towards what I call, “suburban sci-fi. ” It involves projecting scientific concepts and research into the near future and how it would impact the lives of everyday people in the world, rather than on a spaceship cruising a distant galaxy. Technology can make lives easier yet at the same time complicate them – not through the technology itself – but how we utilize and perceive it. For As You Were, I wanted to take an issue that has impacted generations of soldiers and examine that some day, prosthetics for amputees will surpass human capability.
This story is set in the near future, but it is very much about our world today. I want audiences to think about the human body and its limitations, along with ways we can improve it. I wanted to show one soldier’s struggle and how his family could help him reconnect with himself. There are a lot of films showing a soldier returning home with PTSD and in a way, it’s too close to home. By setting this story in the future, it’s not as obvious. It gives people distance yet allows reflection on our society today, sometimes in a more impactful way.
Charlee: The film is called As You Were, but it’s really about what we may become in the future as our potential expands with technology and what it means to be human. What was your approach to the look of the film?
Trevin: I didn’t want it to feel too composed and pristine. I wanted the future to be lived in and familiar. The story called for a rawness. It needed to feel a little messy, so we shot handheld. Although our characters have challenges, I didn’t want to show a cold, depressing future. It was important for the audience to connect with our family and root for them. I really wanted the actors’ skin tones to be warm and naturalistic, that their home had some color inside it. I like showing touches of the future rather than creating a slick techy world, though maybe if we had a bigger budget we could have gone there!
Charlee here again. I want to shout out a special thank you to Trevin for taking the time to answer my questions and for getting in touch with me about this awesome short film. A note to readers, The Fall issue of the SFR Quarterly will be all about cyborgs in fiction. It’s one of my favorite subgenres and I had lots of fun writing my column that, tongue in cheek, I titled I Like Big Cyborgs and I Can Not Lie. I provided a bit of background on the history and themes of cyborg fiction. It will be out September 30th and I strongly recommend checking out this issue for recommended reads and more insight on cyborgs.