A trans-human odyssey

Locally made sci-fi short Agophobia dazzles; baffles

It’s one o’clock in the morning and I’m watching Agophobia . Is this the worst possible time to see something like this or the best? Hard to tell. I can’t discern any kind of narrative from the special effects-laden short film but it looks cool.

A loincloth-clad figure covered with techno-tattoos and sporting a pair of ram’s horns made out of microchips stares straight into the camera while the glassy pulsating world ripples and bends behind him. He unplugs a cable from a snarling bald cyborg who’s embedded in a big block of crystal and the creature stops moving. Then a pair of twin goth bride-monsters walk back and forth a bunch of times their skin rippling like sine waves. They’re armed with techno-swords that look cooler than the gunblades from Final Fantasy 8 . Will there be conflict? I’m not sure — none of the characters are human and there’s no dialogue. More abstractions fly past me — four bald humanoids ritualistically plug electronic cables into one another and their eyes light up. Some funky liquid dances. Horn-headed guy caresses the microchip in his nipple and he chuckles.


The next morning I meet the film’s writer/director Benjamin Ross Hayden at a café near Kensington. He’s an eager friendly young man justly excited that Agophobia is appearing in film festivals around the world including the Calgary International Film Festival where the locally made piece will appear as part of the shorts program in the Alberta Spirit Gala. I’m a bit relieved that I get to ask Ben a few questions about his film. Surely it’ll all be crystal clear after this….

Ben happily launches into a monologue. “The protagonist of Agophobia is The Ram; a sentient being within a digital construct. The Ram’s will within a binary construct reflects the final expression of humanity’s autonomy as we move forward. The title of the film is a portmanteau that means ‘fear of the past’ because it has relevance back to where we are today in this current position because the characters reflect that relationship that proximity that humanity has with technology. For some it may grow for some it may shrink. As we move forward into this new era — or revolution that has in our lifetime happened — what of our humanity do we choose to maintain and what of us changes in the wake of this new evolution that is happening?”

Er… oh. I see. Kind of. So uh… why is this billed as a “Trans-human film”?

“Trans-humanism is a progression towards the term post-humanism. Trans-humanism is an academic understanding for how we are evolving as a human species.”

Ben’s eyes are dancing. He’s clearly enjoying the raging idea-storm in his head too much to worry about making his thoughts a little more comprehensible to befuddled journalists. Every answer raises two new questions and by the time he finishes I’m not even sure what I asked him.

“The structure of the film is based on a Theravada Buddhist cycle which has five ‘realms’ the way the film itself has five constructs. Those realms are ‘Hell’ ‘Ghost’ ‘Nature’ ‘Human’ ‘Divine.’ Those five realms construct the settings and environments by which he has to ascend in order to transcend.” I guess that explains why all the supporting characters vanish after one scene and why The Ram keeps crawling through thorny cable-tunnels or erupting out of the ground.

The thing is I started to like Agophobia once I stopped trying to find any kind of recognizable narrative in it and just started to appreciate it like I would a sculpture. It’s this incomprehensible cool thing just sitting there and being weird and we can look at it. Will you prefer to view Agophobia as a vision of future humanity’s evolution or as the world’s craziest screen saver? Only one way to find out.