Writer and Director: Ian Dixon Potter
The desire for immortality is one of science fiction’s most significant tropes, a desperation desire for more life that usually sours into something monstrous. The prolific Ian Dixon Potter’s latest monologue in his Tales from the Golden Age series, Transhuman may tick a lot of the expected boxes with consciousness uploads, transfers and cloud living but the process is given an intriguing twist in the persona of a healthy young woman.
The protagonist regales the audience with her decision to shift to the transhuman state, refusing a direct copy approach and instead undergoing a slow process of upload to the digital realm where she is free to browse the Internet, communicate with her devices and call friends without leaving her own head. But as the reality of living without physical form kicks in, another opportunity presents itself.
When Rose Tyler is given a version of her Doctor Who to be with forever, the audience knows she has been cheated out of the real thing. This is exactly how the lead character in Dixon Potter’s latest monologue feels as she rejects the notion of copies and simulations of herself, preferring instead to capture the essence of her exact self. Transhuman is particularly strong at evoking this desperation to keep living, whatever the cost.
And while the struggle for life over death is the frame, what it means to be human becomes the focus of Dixon Potter’s story as the lead character is pushed to further extremes in her pursuit of continued existence. Not wanting to die is her first thought, a love for the world and the fear that the memory of individuals barely last beyond a generation. ‘In practice’, she complains, ‘most of us don’t leave anything of merit behind’ and while children offer some form of genetic longevity, the cultural and social experiences of the individual die with them.
Transhuman is a little bogged down in looping philosophical discussions and the basic digital process of ‘cybernetic augmentation’ in its first half, but develops a rather nasty bite in the second that pulls the narrative in a new and far more interesting direction. As the character officially dies and her consciousness becomes her true form, there are notes of regret, resentment even bitterness about her physical absence that lead the story to some much darker places.
In keeping with Dixon Potter’s other work, this references a notion of British protectionism and its consequences for those with few financial options. The commercialisation of death and its effects on the living are chillingly represented and as Transhuman plays out, the true transition comes from the seemingly harmless longing for immortality becoming a practical monstrousness in its stead.
Thomasin Lockwood convincingly suggests all of these facets as her character’s experience evolves and warps as the audience is given greater knowledge of the circumstances of the transition and the digital afterlife. In what looks like a single shot piece, filmed entirely in one place, Lockwood introduces a reticence later in the performance, almost an undercurrent of guilt that competes with an overriding determination to carry on living in the fullest sense.
Running at just under 35-minutes, Transhuman lingers a little too long on the computational process of eternal life but really finds its feet as the character finally transitions. Humanity is more than a consciousness or a series of memories held in the cloud; it is a physical and sensory existence that no algorithm can ever quite replicate. Anything less is no life at all.