Krisis | Elisabeth Caravella
! The video essay «Life Without Dreams» is no more in the Video Essay Gallery space !
«Even in virtual reality, it is important to joke from time to time», Elisabeth Caravella's voice asserts in the opening sequence of Krisis. The screen shows a trembling "Play" button that one - especially when watching the film on a laptop - can feel drawn to press. To no effect of course as «The video has already started». The virtual camera then zooms out and the button is revealed to have appeared on the cathodic screen of an old-looking desktop computer. A few minutes later, the protagonist's virtual avatar, who at this point is merely depicted through a pair of bare hands, will try to manually press the button, and so the joke continues: that screen is visibly too ancient to allow for tactile handling (and is it even a hand? Is there even a button?).
A lot of the film's humour resides in its absurdist way of collapsing past and present media technologies. Following the hops and bounces of a rubber ball that dropped from a typically 90s computer mouse while attempting to install a very contemporary-sounding meditation app on their device, the protagonist's avatar travels a serendipitous path from one virtual space to the next. Their travels are periodically interrupted by pop-up notifications indicating incoming phone calls, as well as video game characters armed to the teeth barging into their reality. Their path eventually takes them to a virtual movie theatre on which they comment, with more than a hint of irony: «I thought I had uninstalled that room». Caravella has stated that her film was born at a time when virtual reality headsets were very much praised as the future of cinema and entertainment. Filmed with a VR headset in a video game environment created for the film, Krisis' digital flânerie gently pokes at these already aging techno-cinephilic dreams, while building awareness of the paradox that makes us rely on the same technologies for our relaxation that contribute to our exhaustion and relentlessness.
In the context of this curation of video essays exploring spectatorial fatigue, I am especially interested in the multi-layered depiction of the protagonist's body. Similar to the King in Ernst Kantarowicz's canonical study of medieval monarchies (The King’s Two Bodies, 1957), the computer user has two bodies here. The one that appears onscreen, the avatar, is first featured only via their head movement, which determines the orientation of our gaze. Their hands appear next, and that allows them to clumsily interact with their environment. Later, the avatar appears fully equipped with military gear, as if they had just been transferred into a generic FPS game. Eventually, as the protagonist returns to the virtual room where they started their journey, they are faced with a vision of themselves as a sort of abstract and synthetic structure, with a simplistically drawn camera as their head, mounted on disembodied and naked arms. The POV has shifted from the interior to the exterior of the body (a process which is reminiscent of a common meditation exercise), only to exhibit its digital constructed-ness.
Meanwhile there are also mentions of an off-screen body – which is supposedly getting fatigued from all the jumping around of their avatar and demands relaxation. The body we hear breathing. The body whose ankles "will be fine" because they walk in a digital, brambles-free forest rather than an actual one. The body whose calves or laps are targeted by Gary the cat's unannounced but recurring calls for attention. The technique used to shoot the film, tracking the filmmaker's physical movement within a computer-generated environment with a recording VR set, produces the uncanny superimposition of these digital and analogue bodies. This never happens as strikingly as in the sequence when the avatar lays down, with singularly true-to-life movements, in the corridor of a moving train. Staring at the wagon's ceiling, the image shows nothing, and yet it is an image of the bodies we tend to inhabit today: the image of an absence which receives injunctions to focus its attention on a non-existing but supposedly calm interior life, while distractions keep coming and keep coming.