In much the same way that logging onto Twitter at any time of day will drop you into the 11th hour of some inscrutable controversy, the work of Eduardo Williams is a plunge into an already-wrecked world as hyper-connected as it is dislocated. His 2011 short, "Could See A Puma," followed a group of young men wandering what looks like a bombed-out wasteland, playing a game of incapacitation called "out of credit," talking of dreams where the skies are replaced with ads, and measuring their ages in hard drives until they are literally swallowed by the earth. Williams sets up environs both worn-out and lived-in, populated by characters who process them in language poisoned by future-tech and capital waste.
With "The Human Surge," Williams takes this further, connecting three disparate stories across three countries in three different continents, following protagonists affected by job loss as they struggle either to find better work or settle for working wi-fi. Exe, in Buenos Aires, is fired from his job at a supermarket but finds some extra income performing sex acts with his friends on camming website Chaturbate. This connects him and his story with another group of young men, in Mozambique, who do the same. One of the men abandons his day job to find more precarious work as a migrant laborer. An underground ant colony he unwittingly takes a nap on top of connects him to a girl in the Philippines, who wanders through a jungle, swims in a watering hole, and walks around a village, motivated mostly by a search for working internet.
Like "Could Be A Puma," the characters communicate in a vernacular both cyberpunk and every day (the dream of advertorial skyspace appears here as well). In one conversation late in the film, a child talks of "a lobster whose genome weighs 6.5 gigabytes" while "a person's genome is only 3.2." Later, when asked about directions to a cyber cafe, he prescribes folksy wisdom about navigation handed down from his grandmother: "Just follow the prettiest girl in the village." The modes of communication are as in flux as the lines of communication, and the mere existence of a global network doesn't automatically enable universal access. The only internet we do find, finally, is in a tablet factory none of these characters can access. Connections are rhizomatic at best, and globalization has created new forms of inequality that leave many in increasingly destabilized environments. To reflect this, Williams had the film shot on three different formats—the first in 16mm; the second 16mm footage of a monitor displaying video shot on a digital camera; and the third, straight digital—all with the stabilizer left off.
"The Human Surge" is as remarkable for what it does as what it doesn't do. Its presentation of sex work isn't a damning indictment of digital degradation or what one is forced to do when abandoned by more traditional employment, but an accepance of it as a legit a means for money. Though a good portion of the film is spent on the struggle for wi-fi, the internet isn't used as a cheap metaphor for alienation, nor is digital connectivity a liminal space with the murderous consequences of a cyber-thriller. While an indictment of post-colonial fracture and market-fluctuated malaise lurks in the periphery, like the ant colony we get intimately familiar with late in the film, the titular surge runs through our characters and far beyond their circumstantial limitations.
"The Human Surge," directed by Eduardo Williams, screens on Thursday May 4 at 5:15 p.m. at MICA Gateway and May 6 at 11:30 a.m. at Parkway 2.