Plurality: here it is:
Set in New York City in 2023, it’s a fun, intertextually-rich film. Two years into the implementation of ‘The Grid’, “a technological marvel”, the film probes the limits of an instrumentalist view of technology. It’s not unique in that, playing on a familiar trope of state/commercial over-play of such power.
The main character is ‘Inspector Jacob Foucault’. As well as looking not dissimilar to Neo in The Matrix, what a wonderful mix of intertextual references in his name: Michel Foucault, with his interest in surveillance and power (and ‘The Grid’ is the Bentham Grid, recalling Jeremy Bentham along the way); Inspector Clouseau sounds pretty close, too; and Jacob’s meaning as ‘deceiver’ is also suggestive at the film’s end. “Send in Foucault. Have a nice day, Mr. Foucault.” The banality of everyday surveillance.
1984 is also not far from view: a poster on a wall likens the grid to ‘Big Brother’; the other main character, and the protagonist is Alana Winston; also, it’s the escape to nature, to the park (presumably Central Park) which seems to hint at relief from the Grid, which, we see, covers only 98% of NYC.
The film links to issues of human identity in this course. A reduction to DNA (with only 0.001% failure rate) removes the need for other markers such as car keys passports, debit and credit accounts, and ID cards. “The ultimate social network.” Ouch! (The film’s chase scene also looks very much within an entertainment mode, resembling the BBC’s Spooks, or Channel 4’s Hunted. Given the Orwellian over-lay, this sense of ‘fun’ is quite unsettling.) You can’t do anything in NYC without the grid (who are they??) knowing who you are, and where you are. The film asks is the right to privacy is effectively dead in NYC. The gird is labeled a funeral for crime – and for what else besides? Seamless security, wherein one sacrifices a little bit of privacy(!) for personal safety. In various contexts, education faces these same questions and challenges, such as in my own context.
The depiction of the technology ranges from the futuristic to the everyday (Minority Report-style computing mixes with contemporary CCTV domes). This has the unsettling effect of blurring future with present, and raising questions about when, exactly, technology becomes too much. That, for me, is part of the film’s power in questioning instrumentalist reductions of technology, whether in education or elsewhere.
The claims for technology conflict, too. “You can’t beat the grid”. But can you? 98%? 0.001%? At least the hint of a dialectic of control remains for maverick human agents. Despite surveillance including brain-monitoring during interrogation. Despite the technology-mediated assertion to Winston that she doesn’t exist, questioning whether she is “supposed to be here” and telling her “you don’t belong here [in 2023].” “Box her in and shut her down” – the film explores the instrumentalist view of technology, when put to the wrong ends.
In a Terminator-style dimension, time-travel seems to be the way to try and bring down the system. The saviour comes from the future, not the past. Like the Cassandra of ancient Greece, Winston prophesies the future but is not believed: “you haven’t seen what I’ve seen… we’re here to stop the grid.”
What kind of subject is Foucault? Is he an appendage of the system, directed by it and at its will? Winston tells him “you’ve replaced freedom with an illusion of safety. But we’re not safe, Foucault. Neither are you.” It’s a word to our time and place, and to the theorists of our time and place.
Is it ironic, when Foucault says to Winston of others coming after her, “I hope they’re better than you”? At the end, we don’t know if and how he means. The Eagle-Eye software (good to know it already exists!) spots him from the air at Freedom Tower. An added layer of irony, Freedom Tower being the rebuilt World Trade Center. “Target locked…”