More footage of scientists shows them working on a pacifying drug that makes humans contented, keen to play games and forget their tasks at work. The vector for this benign narcotic is the indoor pot plant that thrives in offices as greenwash.
What follows presents many analogies to the way we tackle coronavirus. The idleness of the office workers causes production to plummet. The earth gets a chance to breathe but the economy faces collapse. Too few people want too few goods and services. They’re happy without their former consumption and competitive ambitions.
Politicians organise the backlash. They stimulate new optimism by staging a false landing on Mars. Astronauts, who are in fact only actors, are seen growing their own food in their spacecraft as human progress conquers the inhospitable planet. Hope and confidence are restored.
But then this fraudulent plan also fails. The actors get narky, because they’re underpaid – the resentful precariat of the commercial world – and they leak the truth behind the make-believe.
The result is paralysis. We return to the stalemate, only now ordinary people take to passive resistance. They lie down in the sun as the “radical acts” of the title. They refuse to co-operate with capitalist society.
The wicked twist in the film is not the storyline so much as the filming itself. All the footage is professional to a fault, with beautiful light, striking angles and confident acting.
No one can create that kind of footage without a crew and cast, expensive lights and equipment like drones. Melbourne-based Kosloff didn’t personally shoot the scenes but has sourced the material from stock libraries for corporate purposes.
The original commercial intention behind those flashy eye-catching scenes, with their handsome actors and high production values, is for companies to promote their brand, to prosper, to make more sales and increase consumption. Kosloff uses the same material to denounce the whole enterprise.
The clips that Kosloff has gathered to make her film are short, seldom longer than 15 seconds. To make a coherent story from them, she must have woven the narrative with much cunning. You couldn’t just begin with a story and then try to find footage to match it. Even if the gist of the story were clear in her mind, she would have had to spin the episodes around whatever footage seemed the best fit.
Insofar as the plot changes unexpectedly, a strange dreamlike quality overtakes the tale. It resonates strongly with our experience over coronavirus, where the turn of events is almost too radical to believe.
Radical Acts arose with the support of the Light Source commission, an initiative of Buxton Contemporary to respond to the lockdown. The genre is perfect, because you can watch the film at home, and enjoy much the same experience that you’d have if it were screened at Southbank.
But the film is also on-point in speaking to the way we feel about the pandemic and its economic consequences. As well as creating stress and disruption, the restrictions have cut air and road traffic. As consumption dwindles, the lockdown is an unprecedented blessing for the environment, where public interest has trumped the rule of the market.
Never before has the economy been put on hold, not even during wartime, where production might be shifted towards the military effort but not deliberately suppressed to reduce human movement. As a society, we’ve collectively decided to suspend trade in order to secure public health.
You wonder if global culture could possibly learn from this momentous economic moratorium and secure planetary health as an equal priority.
Kosloff exhorts us to take the cue from lockdown: the radical act of immobility is not just needed to stop the spread of a virus but to protect the planet from imminent perdition.