Set in an alternative world that at times seems like our own, With Love and a Major Organ can also feel as if someone asked ChatGPT to write a quirky postmodern romantic drama about technology in the style of Michel Gondry. The result, written by Julia Lederer (from her play) and directed by Kim Albright, is a film loaded with metaphors and similes where fragile hearts are made of paper and nothing is left to chance. Brains are scanned and uploaded to the cloud for a revolutionary new app LifeZap, emotions are explored in an experience that mimics escape rooms and nothing is left to chance. In short: a dreary hellhole in which human emotions are “disrupted” in favor of suppression.
While, of course, an interesting film could be made from that material, this one operates at a frequency that requires either an open mind, a few edibles––or both––beginning in an undefined landscape where Anabel (Anna Maguire) encounters the potential love of her life in the woods by an ocean before his GPS routes him away from her.
Anabel lives in an anonymous modern city, working as a claims agent for a company that sells virtual insurance for any cloud-related memories. In her time she creates art, an outlier in a time where AI may have replaced artists. Lonely and heartbroken, she meets stranger George (Hamza Haq), a guy who always sits on the same park bench reading yesterday’s newspaper with the traumatic parts redacted. One afternoon they finally speak and have a brief connection.
George lives with his mother Mona (Veena Sood), who has protected his fragile heart for years from heartbreak and doesn’t necessarily approve of this new relationship with Anabel leading to tension that can’t be resolved with a simple visit to local Small House of Big Feels, an escape room-esque space where people go to explore their feelings in various chambers.
The future proposed by With Love and a Major Organ is customized to the point of being completely impersonal, giving this film the feeling of what being on antidepressants might be like. There’s a certain numbness in tone that’s by nature just off-putting to the point of not knowing what to take literally. It’s a future in which a death in the family is met with a robocall and funeral arrangements are hilariously more impersonal than hiring a priest for hire who speaks as if he knows the person he’s eulogizing.
What the film gets right in its tone is that liminal space of being lonely in a big city, technology is meant to disrupt and solve every problem except those of the heart. While I admit I have never seen Lederer’s play performed, this adaptation is a rendition too awkward for cinematic shape. In the theater much is left to the imagination––a table with a few chairs against a black curtain can represent any space. I imagine the charm of the play is a precise focus on performance and dialogue; it’s perhaps more interesting to have a spectator create their own image of a replacement heart than it is to see it onscreen.
With Love and a Major Organ premiered at SXSW 2023.