The Movie Every Screwed Millennial Should Watch

The Movie Every Screwed Millennial Should Watch
“Advantageous” tells the story of a generation’s time. 
By Arthur Chu
Jun 27 2015

Jennifer Phang’s indie science fiction film “Advantageous,” a darling of 2015’s Sundance, came to Netflix Instant Streaming earlier this week. If you’re a millennial, you have Netflix. If you’re an un- or underemployed millennial, you have time. Every un- or underemployed millennial needs to see this movie.

We live in a renaissance of science fiction film and TV and “geek” culture in general — the accelerating pace of technological change thanks to Moore’s Law makes it hard to deny we’re living in “the future,” we’re all part-machine-part-human for practical purposes now, no one can guess what element of science fiction is next to become science fact, blah blah blah.

You’ve heard that song and dance before. They use it to sell everything from splashy popcorn blockbusters with robot villains to artsy thinky indie dramas with robot antiheroes.

But “Advantageous” is the first science fiction film I’ve seen that really grasps something I think is core to the experience of us young people who are on the bleeding edge of the troubling trend of Machines Taking Our Jobs Away.

And the core theme of the film that makes it so important is also the one that I worry will scare a lot of its audience away. Because this is a science fiction film but not an action film — there’s no violence, no gunplay. There’s no heroes or villains, precious little of good-vs-evil conflict. There’s no pulsing electronic backbeat and even though there’s smartphones and holograms, there’s not that much visible technology, no one tapping madly at keyboards while incomprehensible lines of green text scroll down the monitor.

Which makes sense, actually. These are all things we imagined would happen in “the future” of the 2010s back in the 1980s. The fears that defined the genre we call “cyberpunk” that set the tone for dark, dystopian futures for a generation were 1980s fears — fears of street gang violence, fears of nuclear war, fears of the drug trade. An adult in the 1980s, imagining a member of my generation, imagined someone doing designer drugs at raves, casually gunning people down in the street and hacking into the mainframe to trick China into launching their ICBMs.

We don’t do a lot of that. In fact, the least fortunate of our Lost Generation of millennials don’t do a lot of anything.

What “Advantageous” is that other science fiction films aren’t is quiet.

That’s my experience of being an unemployed millennial in the 2000s. Long stretches of unnerving silence. Being one of a handful of unlucky young people walking aimlessly around in the middle of the day when civilized people are at work. Failing to make eye contact with each other or speak because we’ve forgotten how to have in-person conversations. Turning to social media or aimless Web surfing to fill the long stretches of emptiness, of boredom.

I’ve joked, darkly, that the worst thing about being unemployed isn’t not having any money but not having anything to do.

And to a large extent that’s what “Advantageous” is about. Yes, the eerily empty streets our characters walk through might be a result of the film’s limited budget — but it also makes sense within the film’s setting. All the buildings are empty; all the stores are closed. Homeless people wander the parks and sleep in the bushes and stare numbly into the distance. (At one point the characters try to walk into a restaurant only to find that it’s been boarded up and the owner, sitting inside, ignores them. They treat this as a normal, everyday occurrence.)

We’re told that the world is in the grip of a tech-driven economic recession. There’s no jobs for anyone — anything the small elite of wealthy customers need done, they can get a machine to do for them better than any human can. Our protagonist, Gwen, is a spokesmodel for a cosmetics — essentially an eye-candy job.

Even though she mentions having gone to grad school and hoping to go into teaching, there’s no jobs out there for teachers now that people can get any information they want from machines. The only job out there for a flesh-and-blood human who’s not already rich is a job that involves looking pretty and smiling at rich people to try to sway their opinions, and it’s a job she’s lucky to get and devastated to lose.

(Every college-educated millennial who’s ended up taking a position in sales because it was the only thing on offer ought to be feeling a familiar twinge right now.)



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