Directed by: Zachary Wigon.
Written by: Zachary Wigon.
Starring: John Gallagher Jr. (Cody), Kate Lyn Sheil (Virginia), David Call (Dale), Louisa Krause (Jessica), Katie Paxton (Mary), Halley Wegryn Gross (Sarah), Libby Woodbridge (Caitlyn).
I don’t think it’s easy for a filmmaker to make a movie about our relationship with technology and not come across heavy handed or preachy. I don’t necessarily think Jason Reitman was trying to be preachy in Men, Women & Children – but his film certainly came across that way at times. Part of the problem with that film is that Reitman tries to do so much – tries to delve into the lives of so many characters and their relationship with the internet, that it couldn’t really do anything other than skim the surface – and thus seem preachy. By contrast, as cheesy and on the nose as the title is, The Heart Machine is a much better, more confident film about the ways technology now effects even the most intimate moments of many people’s lives. The film is structured much like a low-key thriller – a film that brings to mind masterpieces Vertigo, Blow-Up, The Conversation or Blow Out – and while the film is nowhere close to those films (an impossible standard for anyone to live up to), it is still effective, especially in its buildup, rather than its payoff. The payoff is rather anti-climactic – rather mundane really, but I think it still works, as it probably stays closer to life than a bigger, more exciting climax would have.
The film stars John Gallagher Jr. as Cody – a floppy haired, Brooklyn hipster – a seemingly nice guy who can be funny and charming, and doesn’t have much trouble attracting women. For reasons not entirely explained he goes on a dating site anyway – and it’s here he meets Virginia (Kate Lyn Sheil), an East Village dweller. The pair meet online and Skype with each other – before she reveals to him that she is currently living in Berlin for the next six months. The main action is a few months later – we see how these two met, and started talking in flashback – and Cody is convinced that Virginia is lying to him about where she is – and he starts digging to try and prove his suspicions. It starts innocently enough, but as the movie progresses he becomes increasingly obsessed, and increasingly creepy – crossing one line after another in an attempt to find out what he wants to know. An interesting part of the movie is that Cody seems to realize he is crossing the line, but he cannot help himself – he continues to dig himself in deeper. The film loses some of its tension when it starts flashing back and forth from Cody to Virginia – which happens late in the first act – but helps to deepen its two characters. While the movie mainly focuses Cody, it is Virginia who becomes the more fascinating character.
To say more would risk spoiling some of the plot of the movie, but I’m not sure the movie is really about its plot anyway. There is no doubt that the film is structured like a thriller through its first two acts – with Gallagher’s Cody slowly sinking further and further into his obsession – at risk of losing sight of everything else in his life. The film is more about his deteriorating mental state than anything else – and how he is willing to do anything to find out if he’s right. When the movie focuses of Virginia, it mainly keeps the audience at a distance – observing her actions, without explaining them. By the end of the movie however, they will essentially switch roles.
The film is the debut of Zachary Wigon, who uses technology in an interesting way in the film – more of a given, rather than something to be commented on. The two people at the center of the film – and everyone who enters the movie around them – are on the internet constantly, and use it in a variety of ways. This makes it easier for Cody to cyberstalk Virginia, and start piecing together all the clues he has. But the heart of the movie is still rooted in the same problems that have plagued relationship for years. The Heart Machine is a film that uses technology in a way that few films have – it doesn’t ignore its effects on our lives, but doesn’t dwell on them either.