The concept of our lives being transferred with increasing exclusivity from the physical plane to the realm of cyberspace should not be alien to anyone. I’ve personally been to parties were the cups have hardly been cleared from the floor before people expected the pictures to be on Facebook. This year, reading Twitter during the Super Bowl almost superseded actually watching the Super Bowl at certain points. We’ve become a society that consumes and criticizes and comments upon our own existence with such immediacy and intensity that an event becomes a post becomes a series of arguments about the post before the event can even be viewed as a memory of physical reality.
There is an internal bleakness to this truth that many people would prefer not to think about. Sure, the act of collecting and sharing our memories and experiences allows for a greater sense of community, but what of the people who task themselves with creating and maintaining this cyber museum? When the world ceases to find interest in retrospective self-congratulation, what remains for those who spent their time and invested their lives into creating that space for others?
You seek to answer that question, Pixelschatten, and in doing so create a potent and affecting film, filled with moments so genuine that they manage to capture that rare moment when life is both funny and painful, joyful and forlorn. Considering how quickly technology moves it is hard to say that a film will ever truly be able to capture the sense of my generation’s migration toward the Online, and yet you blend a sense of universality into your narrative that transcends the of-the-minute technological side of your story to highlight the human drama and comedy.
This is the story of Pixel (Ben Gageik), less a human being than an online avatar of his friends’ social lives. He maintains the once-popular blog “Pixelschatten,” where he muses on his life, chronicles his friends’ adventures, and invites the world to speculate and comment upon their every move. At one point his blog was a massive success, but now the popularity of the blog has dwindled, a lone set of “groupies” all that remains to lay witness to his life’s work.
When the story begins, Pixel has just posted a video lovingly mocking his friend Lutz (Adrian Thomser) for his worldly incompetence, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend, Suse (Zora Klostermann). Suse and Pixel have been dating since “Pixelschatten” was a success, and now that the following is fading, she – and the rest of the world – wonders what Pixel will do. The pressure, the mounting sense that his life should move back to the meatspace, begins to mount on Pixel, driving him to question what place he has in the lives of those who have ceased to inhabit the internet with him.
The way in which you tell this story at first seems like a simple gimmick, but in the end becomes something much more smartly attuned to the central idea of your story. We only ever see the world in the first person, through the eyes of Pixel, save for the moments when we view the videos he posts online. It adds a sense of intimacy and immersion, but as the blog posts grow more introspective and anxious the “gimmick” becomes something much more meaningful. This, after all, is what posting our experiences on the internet is all about – giving someone the world from our perspective. We are not just reading Pixel’s story, we are experiencing it and invited to relive it. He is giving us an access to his reality, his perception, his view. He acts as our eyes onto his world, and we can see the eyes of the world looking back onto him, and us.
Best of all are the comments that accompany each blog post, which act as a kind of Greek chorus to the goings-ons. Strangers and friends alike offer their commentary on Pixel’s actions and the actions of his friends, and the gulf between knowledgeable insider and casual observer is sharply drawn. Caro (Caroline Süren), Suse’s younger sister, is an especially poignant aspect of this narrative method. Her status as a “groupie” and her heartfelt attempts to bridge the gap between Pixel online and Pixel in reality create one of the more moving aspects of your narrative.
The questions raised are current and timeless. At what point does sharing an experience become an act of intrusion or betrayal. In a world where the internet has become our diary and sounding board, what remains that cannot be shared? Who is the arbiter of permissibility? So long as the world is on his side, Pixel believes that he is. But once interest has faded where does he turn for answers? When clicks replace conscience, what will fill the void?
Your decision to address these questions through the medium of humor and melodrama was an intelligent one. This could easily have been a story weighted down by its own ideas and the seriousness of the conflict at hand, but instead you choose not to deny the compulsion toward fun and levity in times of distress. This group of friends’ time together is uninhibitedly joyful, and yet laid on a melancholic foundation that colors and enhances the experience. It’s a more honest method of expressing concern than the pained shoe-gazing that most films would work with, especially given the heart of these characters and their story.
With you, Pixelschatten, writer/director Anil Jacob Kunnel has created a vibrant and interesting treatise on the modern means of expressing one’s personality online, and the dangers of presuming that will take the place of reality. Not only that, but he’s made a calling card for himself as a writer of depth and understanding, as well as a visual artist of no small talent. In addition, your actors find notes of expressive and engaging truth with which to flesh out their characters. Their convincing portrayals of friends tested and proven gives life to your narrative, and makes your whole story worth following and caring about. It’s a stellar example of idea, ensamble, and execution all coming together to make something that transcends the mere some of those parts.
All of this is a complex and perhaps overly analytical way of saying that I thoroughly enjoyed our time together, and look forward to seeing you again, as well as introducing you to all my friends.
Brian J. Roan