Friday, May 18, 2018

Microreview [movie]: Dirty Computer (e)Motion Picture

"I am not the American Nightmare/ I am the American dream"

If you’re like me, when the video for Janelle Monae’s “Make Me Feel” dropped earlier this year, you immediately watched it ten (or who knows, maybe many more than ten) times. If you didn’t, are you even alive? Not only was the song astonishingly good—catchy, gorgeous, reminiscent of Prince in the best of ways—but the video was also a perfect gem of storytelling, visuals, and acting. It caused me to pre-order Dirty Computer so fast that I almost ordered it twice because I couldn’t remember doing it the first time. As I awaited each new video from the album, I noticed recurring themes, images, and faces (Tessa Thompson particularly). So it made sense when I found out that Monae was going to release an entire (e)motion picture to accompany the album. Clearly there was going to be a larger narrative at work here.

The (e)motion picture follows Jane (Janelle Monae) in a future that, while more vibrantly colored, with way better outfits, and occasionally more futuristic than ours, still actively works to harm any person who is in any way “other.” In this case, that means kidnapping and then forcefully reprogramming them to be cogs within the greater machine of society. We start with Jane having been captured, and labelled a “dirty computer,” and about to begin the process of Nevermind which will remove her memories and reprogram her into fitting back into society. There she is greeted by her already reprogrammed lost love, played by Tessa Thompson (as amazing as always). Incorporated throughout the telling of Jane’s reprogramming are her memories, which are being viewed by the technicians who are erasing them from her mind. Each music video that had been previously released and some new ones serve as these memories (which also are sometimes something other than memories, as one of the baffled technicians points out).

While the storyline is somewhat typical dystopic sci-fi, it’s the way that Monae has conceived of her world that makes this film so effective. It’s beautifully filmed and drips with color, light, and joy (at least within the memories). It’s also so wonderfully open and alive in its depiction of sexuality and queerness, that each memory feels like a call to arms to embrace your true self. Plus, like, the music is just freaking fantastic. I’ve been a fan of Monae’s for a long time, and this new album is already my most listened to of hers. I’ve had it on repeat, basically non-stop, since it came out. Each song moves between genres dynamically and the lyrics are excellent throughout. This is a truly multimodal work—it should be listened to, read, and watched.

If there are issues in the film, they mostly come down to needing slightly more space to breathe (it clocks in under an hour in length) and a standard plot progression. But, honestly, those are small gripes—this may not be perfect in a critical sense, but it is perfect in the sense of the emotions felt during it and the way it confronts hatred and othering in such a dynamic, and always refreshingly beautiful way. 

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 10/10

Penalties: -1 for some standard plotting, -1 for it should've been two hours

Bonuses: +1 for Janelle's outfits, +1 for being one of the most vibrantly queer narratives I've seen

Nerd Coefficient: 10/10 

POSTED BY: Chloe, speculative fiction fan in all forms, monster theorist, and Nerds of a Feather blogger since 2016. Find her on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes