Realism and fantasy collide in Jonathan Lethem's genre-bending coming-of-age story, which follows two estranged brothers as they try to leave New York City for a new life in California only... See full summary »
Anthony M. Bertram
Matt Black directs "Nothing Personal". First shot: a super close up of a grimacing face, filmed in blurry high definition. Slowly the camera pulls out to reveal actress Paz De La Huerta on top of a nameless man, having sex. A tripod mounted camera observes the act. A chic, flat screen TV looms over their bed. Technology hasn't only infiltrated their sex act, but become integrated with it.
"Do you see my feet on screen?" she asks. It's a trick question, the camera interested only in fetishizing her face, breasts, butt and nipples, the banal soles of her feet forever outside its gaze. "Yes," he answers half-heartedly, but he's not really watching. Like audience and camera, his mind is elsewhere.
She dismounts his body and rolls off the bed. "I didn't come yet," he protests. "Rewind the tape and finish off," she counters. Her flesh has been preserved, we think, until he realises that the record button on the camera hadn't been pressed. He curses. The moment is lost. What was recorded is literally only the film we're watching. "Nothing Personal" has been saved. But sex, always an attempt to bridge an unquenchable lack, is always impersonal. Love, we believe, cannot flourish without sex; simultaneously, however, love is impossible because of sex. Sex is simultaneously the condition of the possibility and the impossibility of love. It is both nothing and everything.
Later, in a car, it is revealed that she is a celebrity. As the vehicle drives, she contemplates her fame. "I'd rather be a picture of myself than myself," she says. Postmodernism at its purest: she is an image of an image, reduced to fulfilling a need that is as flat as she is. When the need disappears, she vanishes too. The credits roll.
Perhaps unintentionally, "Nothing Personal" epitomizes the timbre of the post cinematic generation; the network society of today in which everyone is a performer, a performance artist permanently plugged into the grid. As the grid grows, so shrinks each node. With this alienation, and corresponding technological rises in miniaturisation (the era of the pixel, digitisation etc), comes the death of the Self, a shift placated by a rise in egotism, social networking, filming, digital storage and recording. Everyone must be watched. Everything (even memories, moments and events) must be recorded and stored. Everybody must perform for an audience. Whatever it takes to simulate a sense of being alive. Needed. Necessary.
Today, performances more real than reality have transformed our notions of community membership and the exercise of power. Under postmodernism, our world is one of cultural overload, everything entirely composed of images. Bodies are not only registered on video as images, but are themselves images; and images are themselves entirely real, because they are what, to a large extent, compose the material substance of the Real. But this also means that everything is flat, depthless, everything laid out in a configuration that is essentially spatial and simultaneous, even if not conforming to any literal geography.
Not only are celebrities of the network society ubiquitous presences, but everyone is a ubiquitous celebrity, circulating endlessly among multiple media platforms so that we seem to be everywhere and nowhere at once. Our ambivalent performances are at once affectively charged and ironically distant. The celebrity culture enacts complex emotional dramas, yet displays a basic indifference and impassivity. You feel involved in every aspect of their lives, and yet you know that they are not involved in yours (and vice versa).
"Nothing Personal" ends with our celebrity hero, a virtual whore, driving away. The camera watches as she disappears into, we assume, the heartland of Hollywood. The film debuted on the internet and proliferates on pornographic websites. Cinema, keyboards and sex dungeons: 21C incarnate.
8/10 For more similarly themed short films, see Cronenberg's mini-masterpieces, "Camera" and "At the Suicide of the Last Jew in the World in the Last Cinema in the World". See also Antonioni's "Eye to Eye". Worth one viewing.
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