Loveland review – Hugo Weaving sci-fi film is big, bold and heavy | Movies
AAustralian filmmaker Ivan Sen’s science fiction Loveland asks very Philip K Dickian questions about the nature of consciousness and posthuman evolution. Ryan Kwanten is Jack, a dead-eyed hitman who — like so many on-screen assassins before him — is brooding and self-loathing but longs for something bigger. Its backstory justifies its emotional void, though that doesn’t warm audiences to an unsympathetic track, played with bleary-eyed gloom.
Films led by similar characters often use a love interest with distinct vulnerabilities to soften the misanthropy of the hatched man: like the woman injured by Chow Yun-fat’s assassin in John Woo’s classic The Killer, destined to go blind without surgery, or the deaf-mute pharmacist Nicolas Cage dates to Bangkok Dangerous. In the wrong hands, this kind of couple serves up a crude message: killers have emotional needs too!
There’s an element of that in Loveland, when Sen introduces April (Jillian Nguyen), a singer Jack meets in a sleazy place with the vibe of a brothel crossed with a karaoke bar. Choosing her from a range of women, April plays for Jack behind a one-way window, and the pair subsequently develop a relationship. He sees April (consciously or not) as an opportunity for his spiritual renewal, but there’s a catch: her presence, while emotionally restorative, seems to make him sick for some weird sci-fi reason — and possibly phased. terminal. Along comes Dr. Bergman, an enigmatic scientist played gravely by the ever-reliable Hugo Weaving, to figure out what’s going on.
Loveland is beautifully shot, continuing a collection of visually interesting productions from Sen, who serves as cinematographer, editor and composer. The film is set in the near future in Hong Kong, though it looks more like an alternate present, with few obvious visual embellishments that brighten up the already futuristic city.
This world is dotted with robotic creations, asking familiar questions about the extent to which humans and machines merge. At one point, Jack asks, “Are they more like us?” Where are we become the machine? This use of machines to consider human identity in increasingly virtual and digitized societies has been so explored that perhaps it is time for science fiction to move on.
Literary critic N Katherine Hayles argued (over 20 years ago) that people have already evolved into a posthuman state, the posthuman perspective privileging information on material forms in order to view biological embodiment as “an accident of history rather than an inevitability of life”. If that sounds a little heavy, wait until you hear the dialogue and narration in Loveland, which is heavy and heavy from the start, but becomes shocking as the runtime progresses. Or maybe its heaviness becomes more evident when there’s more of it: Jack is the narrator, and then April also gets a voiceover – just like Dr. Bergman.
This trio relies on thick mysteries and counteracting soft mysteries with writing seemingly devoted to violating the old saying “show, don’t tell”: expect lines such as: “What do you pray for, in the ‘darkness?” and “No reason will sustain until dawn.” It’s almost impossible to make writing like this sound natural, so Sen craves a kind of heightened, dark, poetic realism – something that’s hard to do without coming across as a bit tone deaf.
Sen delivered a much better heaviness in his noir outback Goldstone, another production that takes familiar genre mechanics and slows them down. In Loveland, the dialogue and narration are so complete that they almost become the fourth breaking wall in its artifice, pulling the viewer out of the experience by reminding us of the filmmaking process (particularly the writing). This unquestionably ambitious film works best as a mood piece: it’s big, bold, cerebral, and intensely unsubtle.