Choice: An analysis of technology and human connection in Perry Lam’s 'Tony'
Technology is, for better or worse, becoming an ever-dominant part of our lives. The examination of technology, especially the effects and moral questions of creating artificial life is nothing new within the medium of art, and especially visual art. This decade alone, many innovative television shows like Black Mirror and films like Blade Runner 2049, Her and Ex Machina examine many social and moral conflicts that arise from technology spiralling out of control.
While it serves as excellent source material for science-fiction films, it also comes with a grain of salt: an unsettling sense that we live in a world where realistically, this could happen in the future.
These contexts are examined further in the short film Tony, directed by Perry Lam. Lam turned heads with his award-winning 2015 short film Black Rat, about the eponymous ‘Superhero of Sydney.’
However, by comparison, Tony (which you can rent here) is simpler in concept but much more ambitious in it’s storytelling, and in the moral questions that it asks.
Tony is set within an apocalyptic future, where the last remnants of humanity live within facilities underground. The eponymous character is tasked with staving off another disaster by pushing a button every twelve hours. However, when he escapes one of the facilities, he finds there is more to the world than what he has been told.
Note: the following section contains major spoilers for Tony...
Within the context of sci-fi, Tony does follow many well-tread genre tropes. However, what it falls back on is it’s less-is-more approach to the storytelling. This is achieved firstly in one major capacity, being the character of Tony himself.
Aside from one scene of dialogue, Tony (Ryan Soboski) says very little within the twelve minute film. Despite this, he remains it’s core, acting as the audience’s eyes for the vast majority of the piece. There is a sense to him, however, that he isn’t an ordinary human being, as Soboski brilliant portrays a real streak of innocence to him. As the film deliberately provides very little details, you rely heavily on his reactions to fill in the gaps.
Tony does make some unsettling discoveries as he navigates the facility, including coming across a version of himself, in addition to the best scene in the film where he ventures outside to discover a world that is completely fine (as compared to the world he was led to believe). As he wanders through the city, he is portrayed as somewhat of a lost child, overwhelmed by his surroundings.
Within the context of film (such as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner), or in literature (such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) the trope of the ‘creator’ and the ‘created’ is one that brings many moral questions to the surface. Tony however puts a new spin on this, presenting the earliest origins of such a potential conflict. There is an overarching sense of foreboding dread throughout the film, accomplished through both the claustrophobic cinematography by Chantal Jack, and in the unsettling music score. You get a sense that these events are set to lead to something bigger.
In the final scene of the film, it is revealed that Tony is within a simulation, with Dr. Gibson (Megan Barlow) proudly proclaiming that this is the first clone to achieve independent thought. When asked about what will happen to Tony, Dr. Gibson reveals that the experiment will continue, with the final shot of the film being focused in on the terrified face of Tony, lost within the simulation.
This presents two major themes within the film, the first being around independent thought and questioning the essence of a soul. Tony is seen at the start of the film as expressing himself through drawing, and on top of it, has an attachment to a plush toy cat in an almost childlike way. Through his actions (such as refusing to take part in the experiment) and inquisitive nature (choosing to leave the facility and his cell), he actively chooses to rebel. He acts like how a human would act, and comes across as a person that exhibits tactical planning, but also spontaneity in his rebellious actions.
But, this feeds into the second theme, and that is the question of the right to choice. Despite his decisions, by rebelling, Tony is unknowingly taking part in another ‘simulated escape’ experiment. The distance between the scientific figure of Dr. Barlow and Tony is particularly notable, as she speaks to him like a child, and at the end of the film refers to him as ‘it’ and as ‘T0N1-2089’, his clone number.
However what is more telling is that, despite the clear scientific distancing of patient and experiment, Dr. Barlow’s only key takeaway is that the experiment shows they are one step closer to creating actual humans. Ironically, their lack of empathy is clearly evident to a clone that is reacting just like a human. Their decision to leave Tony out there as he struggles to process the ‘outside’ world only solidifies this as they take the cold approach of viewing him as an experiment, rather than a living being.
So this begs the question: are clones, within this context, seen to be less than human? If a clone becomes worthy of independent thought, does that change the conversation that should be had about cloning? And if so, should it be free to do as it wishes? And should they be seen as human, or less than human?
In the cold, emotionless case of scientific analysis, Tony portrays the non-human as the lesser: as the toddler who has just learnt to walk. But, at the same time, the non-human is also, ironically, the most relatable part of the film. The character of Tony is someone who we can sympathise with, that most emotional and human connection of all. By films end, what some may ask is this: Is Tony is human, or is he a danger?