Through Caverns Measureless to Man: The Tangle (2021) Reviewed


“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

     Down to a sunless sea.

So twice five miles of fertile ground

With walls and towers were girdled round:

And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,

Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;

And here were forests ancient as the hills,

Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.” – Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Christopher Soren Kelly is an artist who takes risks; each subsequent film in which he is involved pushes the envelope just a little bit further, delving ever deeper into the human condition and what futures are possible for our species. Kelly, and those with whom he chooses to work, explore realms of the psychological, the philosophical, and that which borders on mystical with probing, intelligent stories that stretch the mind, demanding their audiences to think, to question, and to reflect.

His latest project, The Tangle, is a dystopian vision of a world networked at the cellular level, a Black Mirror-esque wild ride through the realities of a post-internet world in which every facet of humanity can be boiled down to nano-code. Humans always begin with the best of intentions – the Tangle, itself an anti-singularity sort of network designed to alleviate human suffering and connect its global population in ever more detailed, intimate ways, is supposed to benefit humankind as most AI is dreamed to do. But in a world where there can be no secrets, where violence is considered a barbarism of the past, and even the concept of love acts like a password to an online inner sanctum, it takes the murder of a woman named Margot (Mary Jane Wells) to pick apart the flaws in the system. Those responsible for the Tangle’s development are faced with the mystery of who could have even accomplished such a crime in a world of constant personal surveillance, wherein the mind can be mapped before it can even be made – and so it is left to Edward (Kelly), his wife Laurel (Jessica Graham), and their colleagues Carter (Joshua Bitton) and Francesca (Nicole da Silva) to piece together what they know to solve it. 

As they begin to unravel the tangle of their own emotions and the twisted skein of their relationships to one another and to the Tangle itself, the mystery uncovers itself to the quartet in a delicious unspooling built on all the ways they can find to deceive one another, even as they have made themselves believe such deception is impossible. Those with literary proclivities will notice many allusions to poetry and various novels, many of them keys to unlock foreshadowing in subtle and devious ways. The most prominent of these is Kubla Khan: or, A Vision in a Dream: A Fragment, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ode to the very kind of paradise existence the characters themselves have hoped to create – a “pleasure dome” world intended to be painless, wherein the very human soul is commodified and digitized, and only a conscious uncoupling from technology can afford any sense of privacy. Trust is a luxury, even as the Tangle imposes utter transparency upon its citizens.

The schism between natural reality and the manufactured unity of the Tangle is sharply contrasted, and as the tale of Margot’s murder unfolds, the spiderweb cracks in the fa├žade erected between the four main characters is revealed piece by piece. The chasm of their mistrust widens throughout their investigation, proving that even in a self-actualized world of idealized human experience, there are certain aspects of our nature that never quite disappear – and Kelly’s team of actors plays into this with a fine blade of suspense and coolly detached emotions that crumble, little by little, as the truth begins to materialize.

Films like The Tangle are of rare intrigue, and more than merely illustrating the darker aspects of the future possibilities of technology, it posits the philosophical implications of the ways AI will interface with biological beings – particularly beings which fancy themselves as having a moral core. That which is patched with jagged edges and sews the artificial to the organic never quite feels real, and the state of uncanny valley which can be levied upon an entire civilization is also explored here; it is poetry, it is philosophy, it is just as much the parts of the higher self that cannot be erased as it is brutality and tribal consciousness.

This is a film that blurs the lines, and yet maintains just enough contemplative clarity to illustrate how, as deftly and swiftly the AI can learn and adapt to our behavior, there is still something very much alive in the vortices of its successes and failures that reminds us of the very hurt, and very human, places from which it comes. It is a quietly impressive film, and the questions it posits are as chilling as the murder at its center.

The Tangle is available for rent or purchase through Amazon, Friday, March 19th, and will also soon be available through Google Play and TubiTV.

 View the official trailer from Damn Warrior Productions!

--Dana Culling