HOLLYSHORTS 2020 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! A soul-shredding indictment of humanity, Boyoung Kim’s animated short The Levers reveals the ease with which we become willingly complicit in the abject terrors inflicted by our peers upon our peers. When push comes to shove, when our lives lack meaning – or the means to achieve a semblance of it – how far are we prepared to go? The answers Kim provides in this starkly minimalist treatise may not be reassuring, but they’re deeply sobering.
Our nameless hero is struggling. He exists in a dreamlike state in a city perpetually immersed in fog. His pitiful excuse for a vehicle keeps breaking down. One day, a man knocks on his car window. “Looks like you need a job,” the man says. “It’s simple. Just gotta listen to your music and pull the levers.” It sounds easy enough, so our protagonist agrees.
He’s put in a room with red curtains, headphones blaring classical melodies, four levers, and a blinking button. One day, the music is interrupted, and our hero takes a peek behind the curtain. What he sees horrifies him. Now he faces a choice: does he quit or turn a blind eye to the horrors?
“…our hero takes a peek behind the curtain. What he sees horrifies him.”
We all gorge on life’s pleasures. We inhale suicidal cigarette smoke and exude smoke out of our expensive cars, and as all the smoke mixes in with the increasingly heavy dark clouds above us, we rarely stop to consider: at what expense? At what cost are our shoes made, our food delivered, our hard-earned paychecks spent? Is that the same sort of ignorance that allowed the birth of Nazism? Are we all inherently so selfish as to value our own prosperity over the lives of others?
According to Kim, the answer to the last two questions is an unequivocal “yes.” The central quandary in his crudely but starkly animated film brings to mind Richard Matheson’s classic story Button, Button (which was adapted into a dismal/confusing film by Richard Kelly titled The Box).
The Levers may not fully coalesce – why is our hero allowed to look behind the curtain? Why would the company risk it? If some entity is intentionally testing his morals, it’s not made entirely clear – but it leaves a long-lasting impression nevertheless. None of us are innocent. We’re all complicit, whether knowingly or inadvertently, mindlessly pulling those levers.
The Levers screened at the 2020 Hollyshorts Film Festival.
"…...crudely but starkly animated film brings to mind Richard Matheson’s classic story Button, Button..."