The Trouble with Being Born (2020)

The Trouble with Being Born
Director: Sandra Wollner
Writer: Roderick Warich, Sandra Wollner
Cast: Lena Watson, Dominik Warta, Simon Hatzl, Ingrid Burkhard, Susanne Gschwendtner, Jana McKinnon
Part of: Viennale
Seen on: 29.10.2020

Content Note: pedophilia

Ellie (Lena Watson) is a robot who lives with Georg (Dominik Warta) whom she calls Papa. Georg built her after his own daughter who is gone, and they spend their day in their huge house and garden. At night, Georg takes Ellie to his bed and fucks her. For Ellie, this is normal – she is only programmed, after all. But one night, she starts to follow her own path.

The Trouble with Being Born has an interesting concept, but I struggled with the pedophilia angle a lot, and when I didn’t struggle with that, I was mostly bored by the film. It’s unfortunate, epecially because I really wanted to like an Austrian SciFi film directed by a woman.

The film poster showing Ellie (Lena Watson) cowering next to a swimming pool in which a body floats that looks just like her.

What The Trouble with Being Born gets very right is not to humanize Ellie too much. She is very much a robot, an AI that simulates humanity, but she is not really a person as you think of a person. She doesn’t care what Georg does to her, she is programmed to react in a certain way (or not react) and that is it.

But that Ellie isn’t a real child doesn’t make it any easier to watch Georg handle her. For me, already at the start of the film I got distinct pedophilia vibes, and then the film makes it more and more explicit. And on the one hand, yeah, nobody gets hurt when a pedophile fucks a childlike robot, but on the other hand, I am not sure whether you can separate “child” and “childlike” that easily – I realized that I used “she” for Ellie, for example, and not “it” (and couldn’t bring myself to change it, either) despite the film’s success in not humanizing her all that much.

Ellie (Lena Watson) in a bathrobe, looking out a window.

The thing is, though, when I didn’t struggle with that part of the film (you can say that the film at least sparks discussion there), I was pretty bored by it. After Ellie walks off into the woods (a narrative decision that had me scratching my head: the whole time it’s all about how Ellie is simply programmed and then she does something that she is obviously not programmed to do and the film just ignores that part), I did fall asleep for a short while, mostly out of boredom (missing a scene where Ellie apparently meets an older version of herself, also a narrative headscratcher maybe the daughter that Georg modeled her after?).

So, take it with a grain of salt when I say that the switch to the second part of the film felt abrupt to me, but it did (also, headscratcher moments: are AIs in this world so common that anyone can repair them? can’t they be tracked?). In any case, it didn’t spark much more interest in me and at the end of the film, I was just ready to leave it all behind.

Ellie (Lena Watson) lying in the grass in a bathing suit.

Summarizing: didn’t work for me.

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