As the recent American presidential election has clearly demonstrated, there is a deep divide within its denizens. The path of those who slide down the slope toward racial/ xenophobic division and hate is the root of High Score, the short film written and directed by Ethan Itzkow and Serena Ryen.
Punctuated by actual clips of the outgoing Trump administration, the filmmakers introduce us to a young Millennial man, known only in the credits as “The Guy” (Ethan Izkow). His day begins with trolling internet message boards after consuming a diet of anti-immigrant and conspiracy-laden screeds. The Guy’s rants almost make him late for work, where he receives another round of fuel for his inner fire.
His boss provides him with a performance evaluation, through which we are provided perspectives of what is stated versus messages he filters through his ongoing inner-narrative. For example, The Guy takes her deeming him a low-performance employee as a direct threat to his manhood, and he fails to realize his comments to co-workers may actually be interpreted as offensive.
“The company alerts him to his rather-selective list of clients, forcing him to pick up those he sees as undesirable.”
It culminates with his termination, and in the aftermath, he immediately flocks to his online hives, bemoaning his “victimhood,” never once pausing to self-reflect. Desperate for cash, The Guy turns to an Uber-like service, which affords him the opportunity to select his passengers that fit his narrow world view. The company alerts him to his rather-selective list of clients, forcing him to pick up those he sees as undesirable.
In trying to understand those who have leaped into the QAnon rabbit hole, I have listened to many podcasts and read articles about such people. With High Score, we see how easy it can be for them to cloak themselves with conspiracy theories, confirmation bias, and insular rhetoric that gives validity to their fear and hatred of those they deem as “others.” And when the film nears its conclusion, when we see his very same venom being regurgitated by America’s top political leaders, it becomes evident just how easy it is for so many to slide down that same dark tunnel.
Visually, High Score maximizes each and every shot. From a quick glimpse of our protagonist’s trash can filled with a broken family picture to the barrage of internet messages that foment his rage, director of photography Jorge Arzac ensures that each frame of the movie’s 15-minute runtime is not wasted.
With High Score, Itzkow and Ryen give us a Lyft-era Travis Bickle: a lonely, isolated man who sees others only as the reasons for his failures and simmering over all who don’t conform to his narrow worldview. As the lead, Itzkow ably embodies the young loner who views a world as sliding into chaos, while we clearly see it is all of his own creation.
"…Itzkow and Ryen give us a Lyft-era Travis Bickle..."