Sandra Wollner's The Trouble with Being Born is exclusively showing on MUBI in most countries starting November 24, 2021 in the series The New Auteurs.
The initial idea of this setting, of a man living with a childlike android, came from my co-author Roderick Warich, and I immediately jumped onto that because I had been looking to tell a story from a non-human perspective for some time. The story I was writing back then was about a girl that did not want to grow up, nor did it even want to be human.
“As she was playing, as she was running with the other kids, she suddenly felt it and stopped. All at once it was as if an incredible emptiness spread within her and around her, as if she could suddenly see the impenetrable black that had always been behind that blue sky, which she had just not noticed until now. And without being aware of it, she longed for a simplicity, for the way that maybe once a toddler or a cat or even a stone would have looked at the world, for an eternal, constant now.”
An object that only “pretends” to be human seemed like the perfect vessel for what I was looking for. An android that does not need the symbolic meanings as we seem to need them. I always imagined that this android could hear the unfiltered chaos of this world, beyond the veiled layers we perceive as reality. And it could withstand that chaos, while we might drown in it if we ever were to face it.
On a narrative level, I would describe The Trouble With Being Born as a sort of anti-Pinocchio, a story in which the machine neither wants to become human nor does it want to conquer the world (as the usual tropes of the A.I. genre go). It really does not want anything, it only wants what it is programmed to want. It remembers what it is programmed to remember; and even its imagination is a function of those memories.
The strange overlap of memories and imagination is a theme that has been following me since my last film The Impossible Picture. Memory as the identity-defining narrative that keeps us from drowning in the chaos of meaninglessness. Memory as programming, human narration as the very foundation of our existence. Everything has a beginning and an end—the myth of individuation that also seems to dominate cinema since its inception. In contrast, a machine’s existence is something fundamentally eternal in its potential—suggesting, to me, an altogether different kind of narrative.
I find the concept of eternity unsettling. It‘s hard to imagine such a thing. One way to even attempt to grasp it could be to imagine a moment in time as “now” and “now” and “now”—or, say, to repeat a word, over and over, so many times that it begins to lose its meaning—and you start to get lost in it.
To get lost, as if entering a strange reverie, in which causal principles cease to function, a tale which remains inexplicable, slowly pulling you into its chaotic depths—that, for me, is a potential of cinema: to deliver an experience not unlike those we have in our dreams, riddled with contradictions, voids and dark echoes.
The Trouble with Being Born is not a film about artificial intelligence, but about a container—a kind of echo, a flicker of fading meanings and attachments—and about the people who seem to get entangled in their memories, unknowingly having become the ghosts of their own stories. I suppose they are the ghosts we have always been.