Embodied Psychic Life in a Neoliberal State of Surveillance
22 Sept 2021
Celine Aussourd, Dr. Amber Jacobs, Dr. Gail Lewis
A docu-drama short which tackles seismic questions about gender, surveillance and equality, Embodied Psychic Life in a Neoliberal State of Surveillance is a ponderous film which introduces intriguing theories, but fails to fully knit together a coherent and convincing argument outside of its academical intended audience.
The film presents the views of Drs Gail Lewis and Amber Jacobs, as well as film director Bartek Dziadosz, who academically discuss how issues such as gender and feminism fit into life in modern Britain, and how the UK’s extensive surveillance infrastructure poses a threat to freedom, liberty and social justice. Intercut with their interviews is a symbolic drama story in which a young woman (Celine Aussourd) is pursued through the streets by a hooded figure – a personification of the surveillance state - who is able to find the protagonist no matter where she goes.
Embodied Psychic Life… is a provocative and contemplative piece which benefits from the contributions of its experts, and an artistic accompaniment designed to demonstrate the overreach of surveillance. However, it does not convincingly fuse its different subjects into one stronger argument about their interconnection.
The film largely deals with 2 topics – the widening debate about gender identity and the extent of self-identification, and the increasingly intrusive surveillance network which is slowly eliminating privacy from our lives. Through its symbolic drama subplot, and constructive debate between Drs Lewis and Jacobs, it makes considered statements on each of these topics – with thought-provoking points such as the initial point at which we are identified being prior to our own birth, or the ability of the state to portray activists as criminals, being stand-out moments. However, the linking of the 2 topics never really lands – and viewers should be forgiven for failing to see how the differing issues are connected as the film never really makes it clear itself.
The film also suffers from a lack of diverse viewpoints, with only 3 contributors partaking in the piece. Whilst this is an understandable restraint given the low-budget production, it does limit the overall presentation of wider debates around the film’s main topics, and results in the film feeling like it is stuck in a metaphorical bubble, with an undeniable air of navel-gazing surrounding the debates it presents. The film also fails to offer much in the way of solutions, and whilst academical debates over the topics are significant, audiences may come away wondering what the point of the film really is or what it is trying to achieve.
Furthermore, the film’s production feels choppy and error-strewn. Whilst a reasonable degree of patience is fair for smaller films, simple errors such as failure to sync contributor’s voices to images, or clear editing mistakes which cut off certain answers should have been corrected regardless of the size of the budget. The production unfortunately ends up retracting from the film more than can be justified.
There’s interesting topics featured in Embodied Psychic Life… for sure, but they are presented in a scatter-shot format which does not do the expertise included in the film justice.