She’s Lost Control is a tense, brooding story about a sex surrogate and her involvement with a volatile new client. Technically, the profession is now called “surrogate partner training” (in researching and preparing to make the film, director Anja Marquardt and her captivating lead actress, Brooke Bloom, spoke with the head of the International Professional Surrogates Association).
The job, as we learn in the film, entails exercises designed to break down a client’s walls, developing a natural and easy intimacy based on trust, and exploring sexual contact. The sex itself is less important than, for instance, allowing a client to be comfortable enough to remove his shirt despite his self-consciousness about his psoriasis (a scene that is especially touching).
She’s Lost Control had its world premiere at Berlinale 2014, and is presented in exhibition at SXSW (the next screening is tomorrow at the Alamo Ritz 2 and then it’ll screen March 29 and 30 as part of MoMA’s New Directors/New Films series). At the SXSW premiere on March 8, Marquardt told the audience that she’s fascinated by lives that are different from her own to the extreme, which drew her to this subject matter — a profession that many people don’t even know exists. She was also inspired by a story about robots in Japan soothing the elderly, a true modern take on mechanisms of intimacy substitution. The film shares many themes with Zachary Wigon’s The Heart Machine, taking a close and discomforting look at the ways modern society seeks out real, organic connections in an increasingly “connected” yet alienated world.
In the early scenes of the film, it’s virtually impossible to see where it’s set, with most of the shots being interiors and even exterior shots depicting interchangeable urban building blocks. Slowly, like waking from a murky dream, the city of New York begins to reveal itself, insinuating itself like a character of its own creation. Street sounds leaking in through closed windows, glimpses. And then, finally, a view out a window that leaves no mistake.
We spoke with Marquardt after the screening, and she admitted that New York was her “preferred city” to shoot her film in, and that she “tried to make it a character in the film,” and use it to help illustrate “the walls people are surrounded with, whether they’re personal walls or emotional issues.” The film, and perhaps the city, has “a feeling of being boxed in by structures around you.”
“For me,” Marquardt said, “the movie is really about professional intimacy and how we are very intimate professionally with strangers as a means to work on our projects or sell our ideas or be a part of the system. But it’s very different from real intimacy. It’s also easier, it’s not the real thing. So you end up feeling isolated. I feel like New York more than any other city I’ve ever lived in has that capacity. To make it easier to connect but not really connect.”
Technology is a common scapegoat in both academic and pop culture discussions of isolation these days, which is easy to forget while immersed in the tech-centric world of SXSW. For Marquardt technology, and modern forms of “connectivity,” are very seductive, because “there are studies that show…you get a little dopamine kick from getting a text message, for example. There’s an element of satisfaction connected with connecting. It makes real intimacy seem very tedious and hard to control. Also, because when you’re really intimate with someone you can’t put a lid on it.” This idea is what lends her film its title — the place where the main characters arrive where they’re no longer in control of their feelings or, in some cases, their actions.
As Marquardt says, “It has to be uncontrolled, otherwise it’s not real.”
Bradley Spinelli (@13_Spinelli) is the author of “Killing Williamsburg.”