I Heart Huckabees (2004)

I ❤ Huckabees is a movie so purposeful and subtle in its execution, that there is not a single scene or shot I would cut. Everything– the colors, the props, the dialogue, the music, the sets, the clothes, the background, the foreground– just about every bit of information that is given to you on the screen, at all times, is worth examining. For example: if you pay attention, you will realize that you meet almost every main character before you actually see them. Disembodied personalities. There are hints about future events, and callbacks to past events everywhere, all the time. There are symbols and numbers and words that open up scenes to further interpretation, and help tie-in the concepts and ideas being explored.

I ❤ Huckabees takes the concept of interconnectivity and beautifully becomes it; you’re not only viewing the story, you’re actually experiencing it.

“Dollhouse” was a short-lived, 2 season series on Fox starring Eliza Dushku and created by Joss Whedon (creator of the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” series, which Dushku was also in). The series’ production costs were cut during the second season, so the quality goes down a little bit. And because the show wasn’t given many episodes (there were 27 episodes total), the story struggles in its development. Despite its handicaps, “Dollhouse” still manages to be refreshingly ambitious for a show that was on network tv. It’s like a 21-hour long sci-fi/70s exploitation b movie/drama.

“Dollhouse” and I ❤ Huckabees explore strikingly similar themes. The connection came to me very randomly, and I wonder if perhaps I ❤ Huckabees did the interconnectivity thing so well that you could conceivably connect that movie with every thing ever. I thought it’d be fun to explore the show “Dollhouse” by interconnecting it with images and quotes from the movie I ❤ Huckabees. I’m pretty sure this is what life is all about (comparative essays).

“How am I not myself?”

The question is never explicitly answered in I ❤ Huckabees, only repeated many times by the existential detectives.

The question is never explicitly asked in “Dollhouse”, but it is definitely posed and its answer hypothesized; If you have all your memories and your personality extracted from your brain and replaced by someone else’s, can you still be yourself? Is that what makes us ourselves? Our memories and the stories we have to tell (over and over and over)? Are we no longer ourselves when we have that taken away?

“Creation, Destruction. Creation, Destruction.”

“Dollhouse” is about a secret, underground, worldwide organization that runs Dollhouses, where real humans are programmed to be absolutely anybody for wealthy and well-connected clients. The show centers around a Dollhouse located in Los Angeles. Of course, these houses are highly illegal; the services offered basically amount to prostitution, and the ways these humans are being programmed  and recruited basically amount to human trafficking/slavery.

The main “doll” we follow is Echo. Echo is really Caroline is really 40+ people. Caroline is pretty much forced into volunteering herself into the Dollhouse with a promise that, in exchange for 5 years of her life, Caroline will be absolved of whatever moral misjudgment got her there, and receive enough compensation to never have to worry about life again.

“Quantity not quality”

The dolls will have no memory of their life in the Dollhouse because they won’t be there. The dolls have their real personalities and memories extracted from their brain and are temporarily turned into empty-headed, naïve, child-like people. This makes it much easier to imprint the dolls with an entire new personality and set of fake memories.

Echo is special though, and eventually “ascends” and becomes self aware, even in her doll state. Every personality she has ever been imprinted with remains with her. She can access them all, and eventually learns to effortlessly control and switch between all of her personalities/brains. At one point, Echo says to the L.A. Dollhouse master, Adelle Dewitt, “You didn’t make me. I made me. You may think all these people knocking around in my head are useless, but that’s 40 more brains than you have.

We also keep up with other dolls besides Echo… Victor, Sierra and November. The dolls are not supposed to have memories or develop any real feelings. They are kept in a childlike innocent state and anything impure that seeps through is quickly eliminated, but love is a variable you can’t control for. You’d have to reconfigure the entire body.

Love’s power is embodied in the characters of Victor/Tony and Sierra/Priya. They are two dolls whose mutual attraction for each other transcends all memory wipes and personality changes.

“Dollhouse’s” hypothesis seems to be that the brain is fuckin’ ridiculous. No matter how advanced technology gets, no matter how pristinely assembled, no machine will ever be able to compete with the insane power of the human brain. Ever. Our brains are like the fastest computer being used to do little more than go on Facebook.

In a way I feel like Facebook is trying to become just like our brains– Ever present and constantly retaining incoming information about you as you go about your online life. So much of our most precious memories are stored in our Brainbook. In a format far more reliable than .mind (.jpeg).

“Time not space. No, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Dollhouse” even gives us a peek 10 years into the future. Technology has taken over to the point that there are people who refuse to use it in any way whatsoever, and choose instead to destroy any technology they come across. They have to do this, to survive. Dollhouse technology, in this future scenario, has propagated. Most people lack core personalities and are just empty bodies waiting to be programmed or triggered (to kill!). It is clear though that this bleak dystopian future was not entirely the fault of technology. It’s the brains behind the technology who are really in power. With our amazing brains we chose to screw with the amazing brains of our fellow human beings.

After the 5 year commitments, the dolls are restored to their original selves, and the last thing they’ll remember is getting in the chair to have their memories wiped. The 5 years will feel like 5 seconds.

“Nobody sits like this rock sits.”

The doll just sits on a chair and is brainshocked into a New Person in about 2 TV minutes.

The process is similar to being electrocuted. When the dolls brains are wiped, they emerge in a childlike state and the first thing they say is “Did I fall asleep?” At this point, the brain-wiping tech and neurotechnology genius, Topher, resumes the script by replying “For a little while.” The dolls asks “Shall I go now?” and Topher replies “If you like.”

There are several pre-programmed exchanges that occur between the dolls and their handlers and care-takers. These scripted dialogue are repeated presumably to establish trust between the dolls and the people that control them. Also something about repetition being one of the most effective brainwashing mechanisms.

“How come people are self-destructive?”

Who are the people effectively committing  these crimes against humanity? In “Dollhouse” it’s the Rossum Corporation. A massive pharmaceutical/scientific research corporation that got on Caroline’s radar because of animal testing. Caroline goes guerilla in her efforts to bring down the Rossum corporation when she discovers that what they are up to is far more sinister than animal testing. She is caught, and this is how she ends up in the Dollhouse.

This is better than how fellow doll Sierra (Priya) was put in the dollhouse. Priya was a bright, creative artist from Australia. A wealthy Rossum employee falls in love with her, but Priya doesn’t want him. He tries everything but she doesn’t like him. So he induces paranoid schizophrenia in her by drugging her, she is offered up as a psychiatric test case for the Dollhouse program, Priya is turned into Sierra, and the wealthy Rossum ex-employee can now request her whenever he wants.

The most frightening thing about “Dollhouse” is how not outside the realm of reality it is. Honestly, when I started watching the show, I thought the doll thing seemed like something that if it existed, I’d totally sign up for. Do I really care that much for my memories and all the suffering that goes along with being so wrapped up in one’s identity and ego?

What about someone with PTSD? When your memories cause you unbearable suffering. This was the case for Sierra’s soulmate, Victor (Tony). Tony was a war veteran who suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after his tour in Iraq or Afghanistan. Tony was entered into the Dollhouse program to help him with his PTSD. Tony became Victor, an oft-requested male doll.

“Existence is a cruel joke that entices in a form of desire.”

Everything we do in life is driven by our innermost needs and desires. This is point that “Dollhouse” drives home quite strongly. Our needs = sex.

It can get insane the world in “Dollhouse.” The main doll characters are all inherently Good Characters, yet they are frequently programmed to do not so good things (murder, theft, etc). Except for about two characters, every character who wasn’t a doll was, at least on one occasion, a Really Really Bad Character. As a viewer, you never ever know who to truly trust at any point. So very true to life.

The final few episodes of “Dollhouse” are intense, supremely dark, mysterious, creative and ultimately satisfying. What appears to be on the surface just a simple sci-fi superhero tale, ends up being a really intricate meditation on the dangers of our egos, and the strength of the human spirit (always).

3 thoughts on “I Heart Huckabees (2004)

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