The Film is set in the near future, in a world that has achieved a perfected state of capitalism. Society is sustained by a class of top achievers. These cheerfully motivated people populate a bright, friendly, transparent and efficient middle-class world. Meanwhile, so-called minimum recipients live under sedation in Fortresses of Sleep. The great majority of top achievers view themselves as happy and self-fulfilled. An outsourced agency has been established for the rest: Life Guidance is charged with turning these individuals into optimal people as well.
Alexander is a member of the middle class and works in the financial sector. Like the others, he has internalized the system. But one wrong word to his child is enough to trigger Life Guidance. An agent from Life Guidance counsels him about attaining his optimal potential and increasingly encroaches on Alexander’s life. Alexander starts to rebel and soon encounters the horror of the system in all its brightness and affability.
The sun is shining, parents love their children, in Autumn the leaves fall from the trees. Everything is as always, at first sight. And yet Life Guidance leads us into a future that bears disturbing resemblance to the present day.
Our attention focuses in on the prevailing value system of tomorrow. Life Guidance is a dystopia of the future, extrapolated from current developments.
The horror it instills does not depend on the strangeness of Life Guidance, but rather its similarity to our world. Human freedom comes to an end within a framework that includes everything currently familiar: the liberal democracy of today, the financial capitalism of today, the technocratic elite of today. The conditions for Life Guidance have already been met.
The plotline of the film is straightforward: In a society controlled by an anonymous power, a man searches for the authority exercising this control. Perhaps the man simply wants to come to terms.
In the beginning, a camera smoothly glides through the world of a small affluent family, scoping a luxurious residential landscape, expensive furniture and elegant clothing – as impersonal as in a “Better Homes and Gardens” magazine. But suddenly the doorbell rings and an uninvited stranger stands in the middle of the living room, offering to help optimize the family father’s attitude towards life, since he apparently does not satisfy the prescribed standards: 100 % motivation to improve performance, adaptive contentment, etc. The presence of the stranger is a threat, an encroachment on the safe zone of domestic privacy, and this trespass instills fear. Fear is the most effective means to also eliminate the ability of people to pay attention to one another, to establish solidarity. The intruder employed by the Life Guidance agency will soon no longer bother to ring the doorbell, he will simply be present, omnipresent, the controlling organ of a totalitarian power.
If not already apparent, flaws in the perfect surface of things now become noticeable. What kind of society is this anyway? How do these people live? Who is responsible for this perverse order; why are there no traces of family life? And there are no communication technologies to be seen – no television, laptop or smartphone. Any form of informational exchange is prohibited; emotions are taboo. The camera reveals subtle incongruities, hints of irritating inconsistencies. Even a single tear is ‘suboptimal’ while uncontrolled weeping means final social downfall, culminating in a death sentence. Absolute isolation prevails.
The system – who or whatever it may be – is omniscient. Perhaps the people themselves have become the program and simply move about in their scenes by remote control. A suspicion along these lines sets in, there is enough evidence to support it – or not? It is never clear on just what level of reality we find ourselves.
The rulers know their subjects’ most intimate desires and nightmares, can perfectly stage them and even shamelessly replay them medially. People no longer know what their own life is, whether they are not already caught in their personal horror scenarios which they are performing ‘for real’. They have allowed themselves to be seduced by the most banal materialistic rewards: the bigger, better, and more luxurious promised by omnipresent advertising slogans, and a total blocking out of the underprivileged – of course we are dealing with a class-based society.
This is a highly charged, political film and it is radical, like all the works made by its director, Ruth Mader. Life Guidance is based on a fictional model of society. However, it becomes highly disturbing when events presented as science fiction all of a sudden come dangerously close to actual reality. The people in the film live in a world where an absolute societal meltdown has already come to pass – we are on the brink of one.
I have to pull myself together.