A review of “Bigbug” (directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, TV-MA, 111 minutes, Netflix)

The Joyless Bugginess of ‘Bigbug’ 

The year is 2045. The cities consist of uniform homes featuring big screens with advertisements that appear in response to any simple human thought or emotion. People have humanoid robot helpers, and they live in harmony with AI androids called Yonyx. Things begin to unravel, however, when the Yonyx rebel in an effort to get rid of humans altogether. 

Such is the background of a new film, “Bigbug,” directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and currently streaming on Netflix. Jeunet, who is best known for his brilliant and wonderful 2001 film, “Amélie,” has retained similar cinematic elements as well as a wide variety of quirky characters. Alice is a divorcée who is trying to move on with her love life, all the while dealing with a teenage daughter, Nina, and robot helper, Monique. 

Alice’s ex-husband, Victor, comes for a quick visit with his new girlfriend, Jennifer, but he’s clearly intruding on Alice’s attempt at reviving her love life with a possible romantic interest, Max, who is visiting with his son, Léo. Her disorganized and quirky neighbor, Françoise, comes for a visit too. 

Alice is beside herself because there is too much commotion, and the news isn’t helping either. There is a great traffic jam, or so the human newscaster thinks. In reality, things are not hunky-dory at all. While they’ve all been busy engaging in bourgeois consumerism and preoccupied with their various liaisons, the Yonyx have been planning a take over of the human race.

There have been indications that this would happen but they appear to have been ignored. Human reliance on robots has become ubiquitous, as is the requisite identity scanning. A television show created and led by the Yonyx, called “Homo Ridiculus,” features various forms of ritual humiliation of human beings, yet the people watching don’t seem to find it troubling. It’s all in good fun, it seems. Human beings even compete with the Yonyx on the political stage, vying for votes, yet they are clearly blissfully ignorant that the control the Yonyx are exerting is stronger than they think, and that it has been happening for a while. 

Meanwhile, everyone has become even more stupid, unaware of history and devoid of knowledge of culture, art, and literature. Alice tries to maintain some semblance of “remembrance of things past,” and her home is filled with artifacts of the past. She has paper books that belonged to her grandmother, she displays old cameras, and spends her time doing mediocre calligraphy because it makes her feel connected to the tactile world. Her house is essentially a nostalgia shop but in reality she is disconnected from the objects. She only admires them from a distance but is happily ensconced in her consumerist world of fantasy.

Monique, the house robot, is sensing that the Yonyx are planning a takeover, so as a precaution, she locks all the doors in the house. Monique intends to serve Alice, but not being human, she cannot quite comprehend what happens when people who generally don’t like each other end up in the same space with no exit.

Everyone is under a lockdown. Sound familiar? Technology has risen to such heights that robots themselves have rights and obvious sovereignty over humans. People are perfectly fine with being humiliated by the Yonyx as long as they get their gadgets and experience a bit of fleeting fame. 

Although “Bigbug” held a lot of promise at the beginning, it quickly devolves into incoherent absurdity. The introduction of the gadgets and our addiction to them (all the while making our lives more complicated than easier) is reminiscent of Jacques Tati’s 1958 film, “Mon Oncle,” but after a few minutes of examining the complicated and useless machinery, the comparison stops. 

Moreover, the trope of being stuck in one room is interesting, and it has echoes of Luis Buñuel’s 1962 film, “The Exterminating Angel,” but even this soon dissipates. The focus is not on human beings but on their interaction with the machines, both sentient and crude. As tempers flare (naturally, the AC is not working), not much is revealed about the characters, except that they’re all into some kind of kinky sex. Françoise uses her humanoid, Greg, as a sex slave. Alice and Max like to engage in a bit of comical S&M. Meanwhile, Victor and Jennifer appear to be insatiable when it comes to sex, and Nina and Léo join the club, as it were, despite the fact that Léo has no idea how to relate to a female because he spends all of his time in a virtual world. 

They are all clearly superficial people, and because of this, their lack of depth stangnates the film. They mostly feel nothing, and they’re fine with the lack of meaning in their lives. They do not seek it beyond a few meager attempts at amorous relations, but clearly, even those are in the realm of disembodiment—rather like Alice’s interest in artifacts. 

Although the film is visually fascinating, and features Jeunet’s typical filming techniques of fast-moving kitschiness, the script doesn’t take the film into illuminating depths. It fails as a satire because the dialogue doesn’t convey the real problems of society that go beyond the simulacra and cute ephemera that are found in the film. In other words, the kitschy objects take precedence over philosophical questions about humanity’s relationship to machines. 

This is not to say that Jeunet is obligated to turn his film into some kind of Sartrian, existential reflection of “no exit” philosophy, but at the same time, an opportunity to do something more interesting was missed. It’s also perfectly acceptable to feature characters who don’t care about the meaning of life even as their own annihilation is fast approaching. 

But no filmmaker (or serious artist) should accept a character’s tenet in this instance as his own. Jeunet is not expected to show us a world where things are fine or to ignore our current reality. But at the same time, the idea of a lockdown, a not-so-funny joke about COVID at the end of the film, and human instability in the midst of fast rise of technology is tiresome. It is all the more tiresome when the only thing the film offers is meaninglessness itself. Even absurdists, such as Samuel Beckett, invite a reflection on the ludicrosity of absurdity. Today, it seems, filmmakers are content to remain in the sea of meaninglessness. 

About Emina Melonic

Emina Melonic is an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness. Originally from Bosnia, a survivor of the Bosnian war and its aftermath of refugee camps, she immigrated to the United States in 1996 and became an American citizen in 2003. She has a Ph.D. in comparative literature. Her writings have appeared in National Review, The Imaginative Conservative, New English Review, The New Criterion, Law and Liberty, The University Bookman, Claremont Review of Books, The American Mind, and Splice Today. She lives near Buffalo, N.Y.

Photo: Netflix

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