Reality+, a French short sci-fi film, dives into the world of real-life avatars. But, does it hit the mark?
Hard sci-fi short films can be very difficult to produce.
How hard into future technology do you have the budget for? Do you have time to explore these often dense and complex themes in a short film? Will people really still be using iPhone 5s models when they can get neural implants?
These are the questions I found myself asking when I watched Reality+.
French film director Coralie Fargeat wrote and directed the short film. You might recognize her name from the gory and sexually violent film Revenge. It has a B movie feel that seeks to defy tropes and pitfalls of other sexual assault revenge films.
But this short film debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2016.
If you’d like to give it a watch before reading the rest of this article, go for it. After all, it takes only around 22 minutes to watch the whole thing.
For those of you who just want a play-by-play, read on and skip the video. Let’s go.
Neural Implants, Avatars, and Oil-fueled Cars
Some sci-fi stories take certain liberties when they approach technology.
As many a Black Mirror episode has shown, cars, as we know them now, can co-exist with what we consider futuristic technology.
But Reality+ fuses older technology with technology still decades away in real life. Throughout the film, we see people with neural implants use iPhone 5s models. The main character also uses a paper manual to activate and operate his neural chip.
Other things remain as we know them: using switches to turn on lights, security guards watching cameras, and wireless headphone use. Again, if we have neural implants, why can’t we just stream music via the chip?
Perhaps I should explain the plot before delving into questions about world building.
This is a Very French Film Guys
Anyone familiar with the grand tradition of French films knows that there is a specific style to most French media. Reality+ shares this trait; it just happens to be a sci-fi short film.
So the film opens with average looking Vincent activating his new Reality+ chip.
The chip enables you to project an avatar of sorts to other Reality+ chip users. They can do the same thing for you, but only for 12-hours at a time. After that, the chip deactivates and recharges for an indeterminate time.
The film employs a first-person camera “character creator” as the main character scrolls through faces, adjusts his voice, and changes his physique type and size. Again, he still uses a paper manual to do most of this, but the Reality+ chip UI is pretty intuitive.
Nothing else about the city differs except the character’s physical appearance.
He inevitably runs into an attractive barista at a nearby coffee shop. Stella, as we find out later, quickly gives Vincent her number and the film segues into their date.
They end up in a Reality+ only club where someone accidentally hits Vincent with a bottle. His chip starts to malfunction, revealing his averageness. He quickly flees the club, leaving Stella alone.
Naturally, he phones the Reality+ chip customer service hotline the next day.
Oh, There’s an Artsy Neighbor BTW
Did I forget to mention the gory drawing artist that lives next to Vincent? She is the one who uses the wireless headphones as she sits on her balcony drawing.
After she leaves, Vincent notices that one of her drawings fell into the gutter. He picks it up, chuckling at the gory drawing, and places it back on her balcony.
The next day, Vincent returns to the coffee shop to see Stella. She is justifiably cold to him, but then he finds “Apology accepted” written on his coffee. The next scene shows them happy, kissing in the street….but a phone goes off.
Stella only has ten minutes left on her Reality+ chip, so she flees.
The next scene shows Vincent back at work with his co-worker who also has an implant. He reveals to Vincent that he has had his chip “unlocked” in order to gain 24/7 activation. It only costs around 50 bucks, he says. Vincent seriously considers 24-hour activation.
The next scene shows the main characters getting frisky, but cuts to the main character’s real face. The woman screams an expletive phrase in English as the main character says “No, they kept the wrong one!”
Presumably, Vincent means the wrong appearance when he says this, though it is unclear. But the camera then pans back, revealing a huge scar down his entire back whereas his coworker just had a scar of about 4 inches on his neck.
That Last Part was all a Dream BTW
Did you ever have any doubt that it was? I didn’t — this is a French film.
But Vincent goes outside to cool his head, encountering his artsy neighbor. He is also a little down because his Reality+ girl canceled their opera plans.
He builds up the courage to ask his artsy neighbor to the opera. They clearly have a great time, but share awkward silences before returning to their respective balconies.
Suddenly, her art goes flying once again and the main character sees an image of what looks like his avatar in one of the strewn about drawings. His artsy neighbor also drops her phone as Vincent’s phone starts to ring.
We see the phone screen read “Stella” (his Reality+ lady friend) as Vincent notices the incision on his neighbor’s neck, too. The two characters share a look with Stella looking terrified and Vincent looking somewhere between relieved, excited, and impressed.
The Ending was as Clear as how the Tech Worked
By this, I mean that the technology never got explained. Though, of course, this matters much less than a film having an unclear ending (for me, at least).
I literally had to go to the YouTube comments to figure out that the end revealed that his neighbor was, in fact, the Reality+ coffee barista named Stella that he had been courting this whole time.
In my search for clarity, I also found some unique insights.
Some users suggested that, as with video game character creators, users would not go for realism. They would use the creator to create the weirdest iterations possible.
Another user suggested that, with so few avatar options, a more comprehensive or Elder Scrolls: Skyrim style character creator would make more sense.
My personal favorite comment was a silly joke with a typo in it.
Major Themes Regarding Futurism
It is difficult to say that this film accomplishes much regarding futuristic themes.
The film plays upon classic sci-fi tropes regarding how tech can alter your physical appearance. But, at its core, the story is one of romance and not necessarily how technology will alter life in the future.
The integration of the neural implant must also not be very thorough.
Vincent needed a paper manual to set it up. The implant also malfunctioned when someone hit Vincent’s head, but it did not affect him adversely in a physical sense. That must mean that the neural implant does not engage with pain receptors.
But we have no clues as to how this technology works. We also don’t see any real downsides to the technology in the short film. The conflict revolves entirely around human insecurities which calls into question this film’s status as a “science fiction” movie.
At least with most Black Mirror episodes, we catch glimpses of knowledge or one character has some small line about neurotransmitters or wi-fi enabled external brain devices.
For a different take on how augmented reality might affect our lives, check out our article on the short film Sight from 2012. It presents a slightly more realistic and more tech-focused take on how AR and VR might evolve.