I sit writing this on my laptop, my iPhone on the table to my right. At home, I watched Jumbo John on my Smart TV, and have a Kindle to browse reading material and Netflix. All devices we’re so used to now, she says as she unconsciously reaches for her phone to scroll through Twitter (again). But how would I feel if I woke up one day to find that the AI systems controlling the technology around me started to control me?
Jumbo John, a short film from director Tom Logan Gruber, explores exactly that concept. Set in New York, we watch Sophie (Angela Carbonne) as she darts her way out of a building, half manic, half desperate, determined to escape the city and move to Canada. She’s had enough, the Big Apple isn’t for her, and she’s leaving. However, John (Matthew Cutler) – the mysterious, omnipotent AI who appears on billboards across NY – has other ideas. As Sophie traverses the streets, bumping into various unique characters, all followers of John, she finds it becomes harder to walk away – and not out of choice. John, looming over her with the ability to read her thoughts, doesn’t have to do much to infiltrate Sophie’s mind, convincing her that there’s no place like home, and hers is Manhattan.
It’s not immediately clear where we are as the film opens, especially given it’s shot in black and white, but once we’re orientated it’s hard to deny how eerie and beautiful the streets are at night. Sophie is shot from below, giving the skyscrapers around her more power, even more so when John’s face appears on approaching signs. Diegetic sounds from the city around her create the atmosphere, and with the recurrent use of mid-shots and close-ups, it feels almost suffocating. While New York may be pretty in certain lights, it can also be smothering, and we empathise with Sophie’s need to leave.
Jumbo John explores themes of technology (and our reliance on it), loneliness and isolation in just a short 15 minutes, leaving us to wonder whether Sophie will ever escape, and how far John’s oversight will reach. An engaging yet terrifying look into our future, from an imaginative first-time director.
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