Our current cinematic culture is obsessed with superheroes. Not a day goes by, it seems, without breaking news about the latest comic being adapted or what big star is playing which recognizable hero. It’s a fun fad but presents it’s own set of problems. First off, it’s all adaptive work, based on familiar characters and stories so there is very little originality. Sticking with traditional “good vs. evil” themes, there’s no chance for real humanity or depth; ideas of “realism” are often replaced with “gritty fantasy.” Finally, the excessive visual nature of this fad often puts independent producers at a disadvantage – unable to participate in contemporary culture. That’s where a film like The Subjects finds its importance. It is an original superhero film, realistically exploring the implications of extraordinary pwers – produced independently on a smaller scale without the excessive visual effects of studio films.
The Subjects is a 2015 film from Australian writer/director Robert Mond. The story involves a pharmaceutical company performing clinical trials on a new drug. Eight strangers (subjects) are locked in a room, each take this pill, and then the consequences are observed. The drug ends up giving each character a different super power – which seems fantastical at first but each quickly realizes that having extraordinary powers is not the blessing we believe it to be. We need more films like The Subjects, movies that offer a refreshingly creative response to the popular modern views of superhero myths.
This isn’t an epic film of good triumphing over evil – in fact the characters themselves cannot individually be described as being good or evil; in other words, these aren’t heroes and villains – they’re just people. The Subjects doesn’t have the epic scale and glamor of superhero films – it is a modest, character-driven story that doesn’t follow the normal narrative of comic book adaptations. These subjects each have a superpower, such as teleportation or time travel for instance, which we normally would be envious of or have even fantasized about having before. Commonly, this situation would be dealt with them overcoming some great obstacle and saving the day, establishing some over-bearing theme of “with great power comes great responsibility,” or such similar cliche. The Subjects doesn’t do that. Each character, upon discovering their power, is briefly fascinated and imagines all the great deeds they can accomplish with it – and then they realize that it’s a curse, and a dangerous one at that. A conversation early in the film about the time travel part of the Harry Potter franchise foreshadows the negative implications of time travel when a character is later cursed with the ability to travel through time. The Subjects is rather similar in theme to the classic story “The Monkey’s Paw,” in that it shows be careful what you wish for because you might actually get it.
One more interesting thing I wanted to bring up is the variety of the cast. They are all talented, yes, and all do a great job and each is different – not just in developing character but in just how international the cast is. I mentioned before that this is an Australian film, but you wouldn’t know that just by watching it. While not unique to this movie, The Subjects does show a growing change in the nature of international cinema – it’s not as insular as it once was. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was a craze known as “Ozploitation,” which was a popular obsession with Australian films. You don’t have such a craze anymore and it’s not because people don’t care about Australia, its rather because films from ANY country are becoming less tied to a national identity. This, I believe, is a positive thing: we are no longer distracted by the “novelty” of foreign films so we can now focus on the important things in them such as character, story and theme. The Subjects does have a great story and a great theme, one that isn’t specific to any one time and place.
You can watch the trailer here, but more than that you should check out the whole film. Relased worldwide on October 8th, you can rent a streaming copy of the film from their official site http://thesubjectsmovie.com/