Users Review: On Childhood and Technology

A thoughtful essay on technology and childhood

2 mins read

Where does technology and childhood coalesce? Perhaps it’s in the eyes of a young boy, staring with lack of emotion into his future. The boy, with a bowl cut of blonde hair, a turned up nose and lips sealed, mirroring the passivity of his eyes, is the closest one finds to a character in the Sundance award winning doc Users. It’s probable that Natalia Almada, who garnered the best director prize at Sundance, is more interested in ideas than people in her filmic essay although she does conflate the two in her narration.

An exceedingly stylish film, Users cuts between breathtaking short scenes of futuristic machines captured in movement and similarly paced sequences of children, including the opaque boy, playing or at rest. The narration, intended to hold things together, addresses a future when children will be raised by unnamed ‘bots and machines so that they’ll be comforted and fed in ways far better than the women of today. The future, which one assumes is the true subject of the film, is spoken of with dispassion as if one can easily foretell what will be happening with humanity and high tech in, say, 50 years. But the words are imprecise: this is a chronicle of lives foretold but not with coherency.

It’s easy to become immersed in Users’ canny mix of well shot scenes and exquisitely performed short pieces by the Kronos Quartet. And there’s no doubt that the language in the narration is poetic. But even a lover of cinematic essays—and I am one—will end up wishing for a more precise version of Almada’s proposed future. The director takes us on a lovely journey which never reaches its destination.

Read more about Users in our Q&A with Natalia Almada.

Marc Glassman is the editor of POV Magazine and contributes film reviews to Classical FM. He is an adjunct professor at Toronto Metropolitan University and is the treasurer of the Toronto Film Critics Association.

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