This week, I’ve been working as a waitress for the Yorkshire Ebor Festival, which has led to me being tickled by lobster antennae whilst carrying main course plates back to the kitchen, as my Facebook friends well know. And speaking of horrible creatures you’d rather not have in close contact with your body, we have today’s YouTube video, a short film by the name of Operator. This was another video that a close friend recommended to me, and I’m delighted to review it, so… here goes.
The first thing we see is a company logo – “InfoCorp. Connecting you to your future.” – which is evidence enough that we’re in dystopian sci-fi territory. Dystopian sci-fi stories are full of corporate slogans that can be ironically echoed later on – just look at Westworld, Surrogates and Repo Men for examples. One of InfoCorp’s worker drones promptly appears. In the video’s description, his name is given as Bob, which is a shame, because I was looking forward to giving him a silly name.
Very quickly, we learn that our humble worker drone is cheery, a little awkward but basically a nice guy. We can also see from a picture on the wall that Quentin is a family man, and has probably been with InfoCorp for some time. As the title suggests, his job involves operating a switchboard which spans three walls of his miniscule cubicle. All day long, jamming plugs into the appropriate jacks as directions come through a loudspeaker on the wall. This is already quite a creepy set-up, for a couple of reasons. First of all, Jebediah is stuck in Station G8, a white featureless box with no windows and a door he can’t even open and shut himself. This speaks to a work environment where autonomy means nothing – the place looks like a prison. Second of all, the commands which come through the loudspeaker are delivered by a robotic-sounding female speaker. This could mean one of two things:
1) The commands are automated, meaning there’s nobody to help Truman if he gets into jeopardy. (We’ve all tried to ring up BT and complain; we know the struggle.)
2) The commands come from an artificial intelligence, which comprises an entire gamut of potential difficulties.
Anyway, he seems happy enough doing what he’s doing. Over the loudspeaker, the female voice tells the workers that a new system to increase efficiency by eight percent is due to be activated. Not long after this, the room is briefly thrown into blackness. And no, this isn’t the scary part. The scary part comes next, when a dark, viscous substance oozes out of one of the jacks in Franco’s work station. Worse yet, the substance transforms into this thing:
Cute, isn’t it? I asked my parents for one of those on my tenth birthday – I promised to take it for walks, feed it juicy chunks of hypothalamus five times a day and everything. But would they get me one? Oh no, it was all, “I’m not cleaning up after one of those, it’ll ruin the carpet” etc, etc.
Now, when the creature flings its wire appendage at Otto’s head, he’s understandably alarmed and tries to exit the room, but the female voice denies him, saying that he cannot leave until his work shift ends. We’ve all had some horrible bosses, but this computerised cow definitely takes the biscuit. Angus can only struggle to keep the thing off his back, and when it does latch onto him, sticking the wire probe into the base of his neck, he stares, glassy-eyed at his work station, and continues to switch plugs. Remember how I used to term ‘worker drone’ earlier? This takes on a darker meaning when you consider that the director was inspired by figurative and literal forms of parasites for his short film – more specifically, cordyceps mushrooms (deep breath):
“which infect and control the minds of ants, causing them to climb up as high as possible so that when the mushroom finally bursts from the ants head the spores are spread as far as possible by the wind.”
Incidentally, the cordyceps fungus was also what caused the zombie outbreak in The Last Of Us. Pretty nasty stuff. Again, this ties into themes such as the fear of loss of self, and also has a body horror vibe to it. And in case you couldn’t tell, I’m a big fan of body horror. At this point, poor old Digby has become little more than an infected ant, doomed to live his life pushing buttons and acting in the sole interests of the company. All this for a mere eight percent increase in efficiency. My God, what have we become?
But the film doesn’t end there. Through sheer force of will and love for his family, Fernando manages to tear the little blighter away and kill it with a screwdriver. Like a boss!
And after that, we’re hit with the final, terrible twist – he exits his station to find that his co-workers have also met with the brain-altering parasites. It was all a part of the company’s new system. Having escaped integration, er, Zane is shot in the head, proving that resistance against “the callous mechanization of corporate bureaucracy” is futile.
I really enjoyed this little film. The human models are cartoonish, but much like From Beyond, the eyes have a faint reflective sheen which lends weight to, say, Montgomery’s frightened expressions. When the parasite sits on his head, the eyes become realistic human eyes, as if to suggest he’s the only one who sees the true terror of the situation. The music is also brilliantly atmospheric and nicely balanced against the cold metal clunking sounds inside the work station. You can’t help but feel sorry for the film’s protagonist, and also feel a little fear on his behalf. Really, the silly names aren’t suited to him – Bob is just an ordinary guy. A father, a neighbour, possibly a friend. The evil workings of InfoCorp are that much more terrifying when they happen to the average man. Because if they could happen to him, they could happen to you.
All in all, Operator is a highly impressive animated film. The thing we have to fear in this story is something parasitic – something beyond control and understanding – and this is something that people always have feared and always will. I believe that in most, if not all cases, dystopian sci-fi is there to take the little things we find threatening today and magnify them to their most awful extremes. They’re like Aesop’s fables in reverse, warning us of what we could become. The moral in this case? Er… don’t have a robot for your boss. Not even your supervisor, man. Too much could go wrong.