Thomas In Love
Directed by Paul Renders
Starring Aylin Yay, Benoit Verhaert, Magali Pinglaut
In a near future cyber-Paris, one need never leave the confines of one’s homepage. Agoraphobic Thomas (Benoit Verhardt) hasn’t left home in eight years, nor allowed anyone to enter. Fearful to the point of disability, he gets food, sex, and small appliances through the all-pervasive ‘Net. Thomas used to be rich, but now he’s on total disability with every aspect of life supplied by Globale, the ultimate concierge based HMO. Besides regular sessions with his shrink, he sees mom every week, gets regular cybersex at 348 Euros a pop, belongs to a dating club, and has access to Madame ZoÃŽ, a state sponsored medical prostitution service. For a guy who doesn’t get out much, he’s getting it regularly. The dating service turns up Miss Melody (Magali Pinglaut) – a bit odd, a bit of a poet, and a bit reluctant to use the cybersex suit. She thinks it makes her look silly, and there’s the ever-present danger of electrocution. ZoÃŽ’s provides tearful Eva (Aylin Yay), who won’t use the cybersuit either. Her contract only requires MPF (masturbation, penetration, fellatio), and everything else is off plan. Actully, she’s on some sort of weird probation, serving her sentence by screwing the disabled in lieu of a very long sentence. The crime is vague, her attitude is what you’d expect, and Thomas falls hard for her. He pledges a real, undisconnectable love, which requires him to actually leave the house. It’s a triumph of the penis.
While the charters are about as deep as a Game Boy, the sci-fi study of the mechanics and social phobias surrounding the possibility of digital stimulation is the real centerpiece of the film. Some of us have talked about the potential engineering details – what materials are rugged yet gentile, adequate data rates, and whether dry cleaning is needed or even safe, but there are always stigmas when something new arises in the dating game. Thomas himself is so isolated that he doesn’t even think that buying the cybersuit might get you funny looks, sort of like buying one of those personal facial massagers from the Miles Kimball. We all know everyone is doing it, but we still don’t like to talk about it, except perhaps on TV.
Thomas is an unusual conceptual French romantic farce that takes ‘Net life to a logical conclusion. Told from the view of Thomas’s Visiophone, you have a sort of HAL’s-eye view of life and sex. While touch is out of the question, some intensely personal moments occur when his correspondents move up to adjust their camera — you’d never let your grocer put his hand right over your face, but it happens to Thomas regularly and uncommented. People come and go, sometimes real, and sometimes just animated avatars of a virtual community created to vacuum Euros out of you account. Thomas is engaging and a bit mysterious, a slacker with one of those diseases that gets you full disability without actually having pain. True, he can’t go out, but that’s the price of livening in a candy-colored world of digital sex.