“Creative Control” (2015 production, 2016 release). Cast: Benjamin Dickinson, Nora Zehetner, Dan Gill, Alexia Rasmussen, Reggie Watts. Director: Benjamin Dickinson. Screenplay: Micah Bloomberg and Benjamin Dickinson. Web site. Trailer.
It’s easy to distinguish reality from fantasy, right? Are you sure? But what happens when the lines start to get blurred? For some, making the distinction may prove more problematic than one might think, a conundrum explored in the quirky new independent comedy-drama, “Creative Control.”
When a hip New York ad agency is hired to come up with a marketing campaign for a new form of computer-based eyewear with interactive capabilities, the organization puts its best man, David (Benjamin Dickinson), on the account. To learn about the product, David decides to try it out for himself. He soon discovers that these augmented reality glasses are truly groundbreaking: Not only do they provide enhanced perceptive capabilities of one’s environment, but they also make it possible to integrate computer-generated elements into one’s surroundings, creating a truly life-like representation of virtual reality.
David quickly finds the technology’s capabilities quite compelling. Indeed, the eyewear’s appeal is so seductive that he begins losing his capacity for distinguishing what’s “real” and the virtual existence he’s created using the product. This seductiveness soon overtakes him and, ironically, begins affecting his dealings in his personal relationships.
In particular, the glasses allow David to create an interactive avatar of a co-worker with whom he’s become obsessed, Sophie (Alexia Rasmussen). But, even though the virtual Sophie responds positively to all of David’s advances, her real-life counterpart does not, in large part because she’s the significant other of his best friend, Wim (Dan Gill). Needless to say, Sophie’s failure to respond in the same way as her computer-generated doppelganger frustrates David greatly, causing him to become irritable and leading to friction in his relationship with his girlfriend, Juliette (Nora Zehetner).
Meanwhile, plans for the ad campaign don’t go well either. In an effort to create a cool, cutting-edge marketing plan that appeals to the youth market, David hires musician-comedian Reggie Watts (as himself) to come up with something appropriate. Unfortunately, Watts’s proposals are so outlandish and radical that there’s no way they’ll fly with either the client or the target audience. The powers-that-be don’t hesitate to express their displeasure with the ads or with David, prompting him to escape into periodic binges with reality-altering substances, further complicating his already-compromised ability to nail down the nature and character of his existence.
With his world crashing down around him, David struggles to get a grip. But, with so much going on in the different expressions of reality unfolding around him, what’s a guy to do? That’s the puzzle David tries to figure out – while he still has a chance to do so.
Considering the confusion that the protagonist experiences, the story in this film naturally raises questions about what characterizes reality and, by extension, how it arises. And, while the answers to those questions may elude David, they’re abundantly clear to those who practice conscious creation, the philosophy that maintains we manifest the reality we experience through our thoughts, beliefs and intents. However, becoming proficient at this practice requires us to be able to identify and sort out those beliefs in the first place, but, given the perplexity that David undergoes, for him that’s easier said than done.
Why is David so confused? In part it’s due to the multiple “reality platforms” he’s dealing with. In his case, that includes the physical existence to which he has become accustomed, the virtual reality he’s now able to create with his special eyewear, and the altered state of mind he concocts through his alcohol and drug consumption. Is it any wonder that distinctions might start to become blurred?
More than that, however, David’s bewilderment stems from his jumbled beliefs. While learning to appreciate the breadth of our innate multidimensional selves is certainly laudable, it can become overwhelming when they all begin materializing at the same time, as they do for David. And that simultaneous manifestation originates in his consciousness, with different sets of beliefs spewing forth all at once. Their sometimes-contradictory nature complicates matters further, presenting David with an array of possibilities that are difficult to sort out.
For instance, David has a long-standing, apparently committed relationship with Juliette. But, at the same time, he has an all-consuming fascination with Sophie. So how does he reconcile the two? What’s more, the virtual Sophie responds to David in whatever way he wishes – something that clearly appeals to him – while her real-life counterpart doesn’t, something that confounds – and confuses – him to no end. “Why,” he wonders, “can’t she behave just like her virtual twin?” On top of all that, David’s preoccupation with the dual Sophies complicates his relationship with Wim; after all, Wim is David’s best friend, and Sophie is his girlfriend.
Obviously there are many different beliefs at work in creating these circumstances. However, David is either incapable or unwilling to sort them out. By doing so, he lets reality happen to him, a process otherwise known as un-conscious creation or creation by default. With no clear sense of direction at work here, is it any wonder, then, that David can’t get a handle on why his existence is unfolding as it is? And, the longer he puts off trying to grasp what’s transpiring, the greater the confusion he experiences – and the more intense the consequences become.
To a certain degree, David’s problems are the result of a fundamental inability to distinguish between the concepts of “create” and “control” (how ironic that both notions find their way into the film’s title as well). Conscious creation philosophy maintains that we can use our beliefs to create virtually anything we desire. However, the qualities that make up those creations are essentially front-loaded into their manifestation. Once materialized, they continue to exist with their qualities intact; we can’t manipulate them into another form through acts of control on a purely physical level. Indeed, if we want our manifestations to take on new attributes, we must essentially create them anew by formulating beliefs and stating intents that take our desired alterations into account. They must originate in this intangible form – just as with any entirely new creation – before they can emerge as tangibly expressed materializations.
David obviously has problems with this. He’s so taken with the capabilities of the new technology that he’s convinced he can rely on it to make his dreams come true. But can he? In metaphysical matters, there’s clearly no substitute for what we put forth from our own minds, no matter how dazzling our technological toys may seem.
All of this sheds light on the importance of one of our most valuable conscious creation tools – our power of choice. It makes anything possible, yet it’s a power we must wield carefully, one that must be tempered with deliberation, discernment and an appreciation for consequences. Having options is by all means desirable, but we must manage them carefully, especially when they come flooding at us in volume and simultaneously, as they obviously do in David’s case.
As a corollary to the foregoing, we must also be prepared to accept responsibility for what we create and the choices we make. But the question we must ask ourselves, of course, is “Can we handle it?” That’s especially true when we manifest powerful tools, such as the augmented glasses, that give us the impression they create reality for us, something that can lead to undue confusion and an abrogation of our sense of responsibility. It’s also crucial when we hand over our power to others, as happens when David entrusts Reggie to come up with significant portions of the ad campaign that he’s supposed to design. In the end, these are issues that David must grapple with if he’s to regain his grip on an existence that’s rapidly slipping away from him, a cautionary tale for us all.
“Creative Control” is a smartly written, superbly acted offering about modern technology, what we’re doing with it and what it’s doing to us, presenting a scathing indictment of modern culture and its questionable effects. The picture’s wry but relevant metaphysical underpinnings give us pause to think about what we’re creating, what we’re becoming as a result of it and, even more fundamentally, what it means to be human in a rapidly changing paradigm. Actor/writer/director Benjamin Dickinson, a bona fide rising star, offers up an insightful picture whose thoughtful messages are delivered with incisive and ironic humor. The film’s gorgeous black-and-white cinematography and simple but impressive special effects serve up a stunning visual package well suited to the picture’s subject matter.
I was fortunate to initially see “Creative Control” at last year’s Chicago International Film Festival. At that time, the picture’s release status was unclear, but, in light of its many fine qualities, I was hopeful that it would get picked up by a distributor and receive the wider exposure it truly deserved. Thankfully that happened, and the film is now playing in theaters specializing in foreign and independent cinema, with DVD and Blu-ray disk releases scheduled for the near future.
In an age when technology is making the once-impossible entirely plausible, we’d be wise to heed the cautions of this film. Our lives, our sanity and even our very existence may well depend on it.
Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.