Credit: Isiah Medina
by Zach Lewis Film

Best Films of 2020: Inventing the Future

December 27, 2020

What would it look like to adapt The Communist Manifesto to film? Thomas Paine’s Common SenseIndustrial Society and Its Future? These texts have no main characters to follow, no specific locations, and no visual action — they are texts anathema to a visual medium. So, when Verso Books first announced that Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek’s popular, radical pamphlet Inventing the Future would be adapted to film, suspicion rightly should have been raised. Instead, the announcement that Isiah Medina, director of the expressivist 88:88, would helm such a project helped make sense of the surprising announcement. Medina’s previous works often combined themes of technology and human intimacy — what’s immediately recalled are images of private texts between friends in 88:88 — so it’s no wonder that his filmic instincts and interests would work in tandem with such a text. Green screens, 3D animation models, phones, laptops, and video villages are usual symbols of cinematic capitalist excess for leftist critics, yet Medina’s Inventing the Future celebrates them in Eisensteinian montage. Tools that seem like such obvious symbols of subjugation are shown as mediators of relationships, realizers of large-scale imagination, and, most radically, instruments of play (shots of toys alluding to popular engineer-philosopher Reza Negarestani’s Intelligence and Spirit). Narration from the source material dominates the film, but Medina strays to corollary texts when appropriate — just how much this combination of text and image will make sense might depend less on how much one is paying attention than how much one can spiritually ride Medina’s argument-by-collage wave. This is not without controversy: Williams and Srnicek’s text decries “folk politics” of the left (think Occupy Wall Street, co-ops, local rallies) for not thinking as big as their enemies. Real power comes with the unwanted baggage of hierarchy and top-down initiatives that affect world-scale systems, a “Mont Pelerin of the left” in their words. That Williams and Srnieck have an earlier affiliation with “left-accelerationism” (notably a term not in Inventing the Future) that posits a neoliberal “collapse” event must happen before the left can rebuild its global society means that such a thesis will not be taken on faith. Medina’s film, then, fills in the aesthetic gaps by showing that such a tech-heavy world is desirable, that a world without work is enjoyable, and that we do love high-budget CGI entertainment so long as humanity is not lost in acquisitions and mergers. It certainly helps his argument that his film is free.

Published as part of Top 25 Films of 2020 — 25-11.