Five Star Existence: Film Review

Five Star Exsistence Still - H 2012

Five Star Exsistence Still - H 2012

Tech-obsessed doc provides ample food for thought, no time to digest it.

Documentary focuses on technology's effect on human consciousness.

SEATTLE — A timely look at tech's effect on human consciousness that suffers from the very syndrome it hopes to diagnose, Sonja Lindén's Five Star Existence tosses out such a barrage of provocative observations that thinking deeply about any of them becomes nearly impossible. Beautiful cinematography and unexpected perspectives could help win over viewers who aren't numbed by the filmmaker's approach.

Lindén begins inauspiciously, introducing the subject of ubiquitous tech access by focusing on her own mundane routines. Viewers -- none of whom will be strangers to the attention-hogging qualities of cell phones, Facebook and the like -- will likely find this self-indulgent and off-puttingly diaristic, but Lindén soon moves to more novel subjects. Cows, for instance: At an almost fully-automated dairy farm, she finds a technician overseeing a barn full of robo-milked cows while checking his Facebook. Moving next to a dense forest, she watches as Transformer-sized logging machinery easily chops and strips trees, leaving around 2,000 jobs for humans where once there were between fifty and sixty thousand.

Typically, though, Lindén's focus is on more commonplace technologies -- digital environments that mediate human interaction or become responsible for tasks we once assigned to our own brains. At the extreme end of the spectrum, she notes the hard-to-believe story of a Korean couple whose infant died of neglect while they attended to a virtual child. But sensationalism isn't her main point, and we mostly hear from highbrow designers, therapists, and so on. Each offers a fine-tuned perspective on the matter, and few see a way out -- though one dreams of a "global halting entity" that could somehow put the brakes on our accelerating push into the digital world.

Each of these speakers gets only a few moments before being replaced by another, and the only human Lindén ever returns to for a follow-up is herself. The result is more an idea-stuffed tone poem than a documentary -- one whose beautifully composed, lingering images, often of nature scenes, are likely intended to remind us what we're forsaking, but sometimes come across as non sequiturs.

Venue: Seattle International Film Festival
Production Company: Avanton Productions Oy
Director-screenwriter-producer: Sonja Lindén
Director of photography: Peter Flinckenberg
Music: Rebekka Karijord
Editor: Samu Heikkilä
No rating, 89 minutes