‘The Human Condition’ aims deep but falls flat

A collection of four short films revolving around motifs of choice and hard-earned life lessons, “The Human Condition” by Anchorage-based media film marketing agency, BIZZAY, features gorgeous camera work and an excellent sound score accompanying the film.

"The Human Condition" theatrical poster

The film, which was shot entirely in Alaska with local actors and crew, is very well done visually and is beautiful to watch. However, the script at times seems unnatural, and as a result, there are times in the film where the dialogue seems clunky and awkward. There are also many times when the dialogue hits the audience over the head with the message the film is trying to communicate rather than letting the metaphors speak for themselves.

In this review I will cover two out of the four short films: the one I thought was the best… and the one that stood out to me as the worst.

Probably the most well done portion of the film script-wise is the first film, “The Grand Puppeteer.” This 10-minute short film follows a woman named Scarlet and her plight to find her missing husband. Her search leads her to seek out the services of a medium type character, the “Grand Puppeteer.”

“The rationalist compass has lead you astray… and so you look upon the stars for guidance,” says the puppeteer to Scarlet.

The puppeteer speaks in riddles, needling Scarlet about what she wants and whether she wants to find her husband for her sake… or for the sake of his well being. Scarlet asks the puppeteer to bring her husband back, to which he obliges and within seconds there is a knock at the door and Scarlett’s missing husband is miraculously back.

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Scarlet embraces her husband and asks him where he went. He informs her that he left when he found out he was terminally ill but insists that he did write to her.

After discovering her husband ill with a disease he contracted abroad, Scarlet begs the puppeteer to make him healthy again, a request which the puppeteer hints may have unforeseen consequences but nevertheless accommodates.

Immediately, Scarlet’s husband stands up and is cured, but he has no memory of Scarlett and does not recognize her. The puppeteer smugly informs Scarlet that he rearranged the course of her husband’s life in order to make him better and that the only way to cure him was to alter his life’s path, which in turn means they never met.

Scarlett’s husband, not recognizing the woman before him, promptly leaves Scarlet alone with the puppeteer. The puppeteer explains to Scarlet why her husband doesn’t remember her, letting her know that while he’ll live out the rest of his life healthy… their relationship is no longer possible.

As Scarlet leaves, visibly shaken, the camera pans over and we see that the puppeteer is holding the letter from Scarlet’s husband, which she never received, explaining his absence… and suddenly the title “The Grand Puppeteer” makes sense.

The last film in “The Human Condition” is called “Memento Mori,” and it follows a man named Gus. The film starts out with a sleeping Gus, alone on a couch. Gus wakes up and discovers a woman named Amara near him.

Amara, played by UAA student Devin Hawkins, is probably one of the best characters in “The Human Condition” and has some of the best lines. Additionally, Hawkins plays the role excellently.

After Gus wakes up, rubbing his eyes and gathering his surroundings, Amara explains to him that she is an old friend… a friend which Gus cannot seem to place, casting a mysterious tone over her presence.

Amara leads Gus to a party and tells him that “everyone” is waiting for him and that they’re all so proud of him. At the party, Gus first meets with another old friend of his. This friend seems genuinely happy for him and reassures Gus that he’s very happy Gus is finally moving on with his life.

When he’s done talking to this friend, Amara brings over Gus’s mother and the two have what seems to be a heart to heart about some old tensions and disagreements relating to a situation involving Gus’s father’s health.

Gus and his mother talk out their differences, and the two seem to make up. Ultimately, Gus’s mother says she is proud of him for giving up his future to help her when things relating to his father’s medical condition got rough. The entire atmosphere has somewhat of a “positive purgatory” type of vibe where Gus definitely seems to be in some type of limbo but seems to be making amends with everyone he’s known throughout his life. This atmosphere changes, however, when we meet Gus’s father.

Gus’s father breaks the calming spell this “limbo” dimension seems to be under, bringing everything back to reality. He reveals that Gus didn’t help when he got sick and instead abandoned his family in their time of need to party and use drugs.

In this dramatic turn of events, we find out that Gus actually has died of an opioid overdose and that this whole “limbo” he’s experiencing is either the happy space he goes to when he is high… or the space in between life and whatever is next for Gus.

Gus is chastised by multiple people, including his father and Amara, that he selfishly “chose” to do drugs. Even the narrator makes commentary about choices in life and actions having consequences.

This is where I take an issue with “Memento Mori.” While, of course, there is a degree of choice in drug use… In a state that’s currently in the thrall of an opioid crisis, it strikes me as tone deaf to compose a script that paints people who overdose on opioids as selfish people who “choose” their high over all their other responsibilities and therefore somehow deserve to die.

Anyone who’s studied patterns of drug use knows that circumstances such as abuse in the home, homelessness, sexual assault and a multitude of other factors often push people into using hard drugs.

While there are cases like “Memento Mori,” where people coming from a place of relative privilege fall into delinquency and drug use for no apparent reason, it’s a pretty simplistic view of addiction and ultimately reinforces much of the stigma that prevents people from seeking help. At the point where someone is overdosing on opioids… it is likely they’re dealing with addiction, and it’s a lot less about “choice.”

In conclusion, I truly did enjoy “The Human Condition” and would recommend to anyone to check out BIZZY’s youtube channel, where the film can be watched for free. The cinematography, sound score, costuming, lighting and casting were done very well, as it is really impressive that the whole production team is so young. It’s an ambitious venture to attempt four short films connected by similar motifs, and I think that ironically that actually worked against “The Human Condition.” Alone, you can find merit and appreciate each film, but stacked right next to each other, it’s impossible not to compare quality of acting, dialogue and script in ways in which an audience probably wouldn’t scrutinize a stand alone film.