Wanna come over?
Living in profoundly strange and confusing times, each and every tiny action begins to feel like a puzzle to be solved. Isolation, encroaching darkness, waning faith in your surroundings, it all slowly wears you down. It has also presented us with a twisted view of our own world, shutting down our external barriers with a trifecta of locks while we invite infinitely more threatening technology into our homes with open arms. It surrounds us and bears down on us, sapping our life force as we become increasingly reliant on faceless voices and convenience. At the same time, it’s all we have, and just as much as the world outside our comforting walls has crushed us into forgetting what normal ever meant, the grip our insistent interconnected communication has on us has become our last light, a persistent blue glow in the darkness.
It’s this fundamental understanding of our frustrated spiraling symbiosis with technology that allows Steven Soderbergh to sell Kimi as a razor sharp look at the internal battle we all face in an age of unavoidable modernity and unstoppable surveillance. It’s the dystopian nightmare we continue to wake up to, desperately hoping we’ve been trapped in some twisted time loop dream world that we’ll eventually snap out of only to once again find that the person who designed our phones just earned several billion dollars while we rifle through our stacks of unpaid bills. Trapped in cold disconnection from the world around us we must turn to all we have left to hold any sort of human connection, but it’s those same devices that can’t help but fall into the same seemingly inevitable pits of chthonic data collection and privacy invasion.
It feels entirely reasonable in this slowly dissolving age to be wracked with anxiety and paranoia, paranoia that seems to constantly feed into itself no matter which way we turn, one way threatened by mistreatment and disregard for the impoverished and the other threatened by every corporation on the planet having a psychological profile of you that understands more about you than you understand about yourself. There is only losing to those above you, either forced to stay where they can watch you or only sold the mistaken illusion of freedom while they track your every movement and analyze every pregnant pause before sending a text. Kimi‘s protagonist Angela Childs then becomes instantly sympathetic, harboring a fear that now feels all too understandable as she collapses with indecision over even the short stroll outside to grab a breakfast sandwich.
Despite it all, Kimi is far from straight-laced, on the nose technophobia with an axe to grind, as Soderbergh remains far too clever to commit to anything so straightforward, instead weaving together the crushing anxiety of our modern world along with an unfurling conspiracy, infused with nerve shredding tension and an intelligent handling of our immediate life and times without ever tipping into heavy-handedness. It never calls attention to itself, Soderbergh’s ever deft presentation providing the elegance of a mystery unfolding beneath the drafty open plan of a Seattle loft with the burning presence of a suffocating pandemic and a city in crisis behind it.
It’s a notable challenge to make a film within the confines of a pandemic and come out successfully, and even more of a challenge to make a film that still feels like it exists within a living, breathing city that teems with life. Many adjacent films have instead leaned into the inverse, playing up the isolation so as to not call attention to the lack of a bustling metropolis behind it. Instead, here we get the most reverent direction Seattle has been offered in decades, Soderbergh applying his natural ability to turn any setting into a pulsating entity with a warm heartbeat. In the past, the winding underground maze beneath Las Vegas gave birth to one of cinema’s most beautiful moments below the Bellagio fountain; the neon-soaked nightclubs of Tampa were transformed into spellbinding showcases of personal liberation; and the Charlotte Motor Speedway moved cold hard cash faster than it moved high performance stock cars. Today, Soderbergh’s camera turns to the Pacific Northwest and follows the same naturalistic warmth, shot with enough manic madness to obfuscate the empty streets at the corner of the frame while retaining its impassioned view of feet on the 5th Avenue pavement and the blue patterned fabric of a Sound Transit train.
But the reverence is delivered along with an honesty, the necessary hollow core beneath Seattle’s quiet bustle and sea breeze, the constantly corrupting and slowly consuming shadow of massive tech conglomerates slowly eating through every building and suburb until there’s not a step you can take without being spotted by a device owned by a corporation that’s also most likely just about the only place offering you a job. As it spins out of control the film makes two things perfectly clear: We are being systematically commodified and eroded by the dystopian eye of technology, and there’s little the world won’t do to protect the interests of where the money flows, but it doesn’t mean we’re entirely without hope. We’re capable, both of overcoming our personally predisposed and externally onset fears and standing up for ourselves against the consistent omnipresent observation that permeates through our lives.