Aaron Kirk’s short film Dirge is a challenging piece of work. Set during some End of the World scenario (complete with the requisite abandoned towns, homes and streets), the film follows Rod (Cilton Beard) and his artificial intelligence-enabled portable computer (which looks like a hard-body camera case with lights), Ray (voiced by Matthew Bramlett), as they wander what’s left of civilization. After a stop to rest for the night, it is revealed that the two have a bond beyond just a man and his talking computer; as Ray’s batteries run down and therefore his “life” begins to expire, Rod is right there with him, poised to slit his own throat should his companion die. Apparently the two have agreed on this form of death pact, though Ray begins to relent near the end, stipulating that Rod be absolutely sure he is the last human alive before he is allowed to kill himself.
There are glimpses of the history of Ray and Rod, and even a little bit more of an explanation near the end of the short to give you an idea of where and how Ray’s AI was developed, but the film revels in its own lack of information. I had to watch Dirge a couple times to see if I had missed something, and despite the extra effort, I still failed at finding the clarity I was looking to discover.
It’s obvious that the filmmaker respects that the audience generally isn’t stupid and may even enjoy a challenge to the norm of passive viewing. While the details about the End of the World situation aren’t shared, we are shown enough to realize that Ray and Rod were not alone in their survival, and at some point, things went very bad amongst the larger group. It can be ambiguous and confusing, but you don’t need the full details of the who, how, where, why and when to grasp what’s really going on here.
In the end, it’s the broad strokes of the story and a simple idea of a computer being such a powerful companion during an apocalypse that one could come to regard it as human. Imagine Wilson from Cast Away, if the damn ball could talk, share its memories (recordings) and make death pacts with the living. Since the technical aspects of the film are more than up to the task (the film looks great and the sound mix has a haunting quality to it without being too obvious about itself), the success of the film will be defined on how willing the audience is to empathize with or embrace Rod and Ray’s relationship. For me, it worked enough to keep me engaged in the film, though I will admit that my own personal need to “figure things out” overshadowed the emotional connection I may have otherwise experienced, had I accepted the ambiguity sooner.
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