Part of the title of Erik Gandini’s offering at this year’s Sydney Film Festival owes its origin to John Zerzan, an advocate of property damage as a form of protest against a voracious consumerist culture. In an interview during the film, Zerzan both regrets what he sees as a need for his philosophy and emphasizes that the violence he encourages is against corporate property. Zerzan believes that we, as materially prosperous nations are “terrorized into being consumers.” Gandini’s film explores partly the way that this “terrorism” succeeds and also, examines its detrimental effect on individuals and the environment.
In a particularly interesting part of the film Surplus, we are taken to a factory operation which produces custom-made sex dolls. The dolls are produced to cosmetically replicate as much as is possible, a number of, quite similar, ideas of the ideal human body. The fact that most of the dolls that we see are female in appearance is irrelevant as the company has begun producing (with an identical philosophy, male dolls). Much more relevant is the high price tag of US $7,000 to $8,000 each.
The dolls serve as a metaphor, allowing the viewer on reflection, to digest much of the film’s purpose from them. Whatever their price, dolls yield to whatever the purchaser wishes them to (just as consumers are emasculated by consumerist culture and advertising, which renders all subject to such, into becoming passive recipients). Whatever their price, dolls can be discarded at will, (after the buyer is tired or bored with the pleasure capability that he/she believed that they could receive from them). How telling then are the banks of televisions which have become waste on a dump, which the film shows.
Gandini sought and succeeds in using the “aesthetics” of advertising to criticize, ridicule and berate, the “dog chasing its tail” nature of consumerist culture. The upbeat style and barrage of images which populate some scenes, in no way detract from the very real threat that consumerism poses to the souls of individuals. Just to prove how much power of corruption consumerist culture has, Gandini interviews a young Cuban girl who had visited the UK on the invitation of a friend. At the time of the interview, she is living in Cuba, and appears happy and vibrant but confesses fondly to her memories of the seduction of Western fast food. She also confesses to experiencing a dramatic weight increase. Interesting indeed, given recent reflections on obesity in Australian society.
Particularly to be commended is Johan Soderberg, whose editing of this film is tight and assists in making every image in this roller-coaster attack on overconsumption, count.
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