Synopsis: A wealthy couple decides to pay for a new procedure that allows their minds to be transferred to younger, purchased bodies. But there’s a catch: the host bodies wake up as themselves for four hours each night and have ideas and desires of their own.
eyelights: the setting. the ethical questions posed. the love stories. the gorgeous score.
eyesores: the weak German dubbing when the subjects didn’t speak their native language.
‘Transfer’ is a German film based on short story by Elia Barceló. Transplanting the setting from Spain to Germany, it tells the story of Hermann and Anna, an extremely wealthy older couple who contemplate using the services of Menzaza, a company that has developed a technology for transferring a person into another’s body.
In this future, poor people from various countries are bought by Menzaza as subjects for this procedure. Although their bodies will no longer be their own, they get four hours of awareness at night so that they may continue to “live”. In exchange for their self-sacrifice, their hard-up families are paid handsome fees.
Clients, who are invariably extremely well-off, have three months to try out the transfer before it is made irreversible by cremating their old bodies. During this time, they are consistently monitored by a Menzaza attendant to ensure that all goes well (ex: their medication needs to be taken many times a day).
What’s interesting is that, as they sleep, their dreams often merge with the memories of the person whose body they’re inhabiting. Similarly, as the brain adapts to this, the subjects also end up with some of the skills of the people who are inhabiting them (in this case, speaking German, or knowing how to swim).
‘Transfer’ is both beautiful and disturbing.
On the one hand, we’re treated to a touching love story between two people who have been together for 50 years and simply can’t stand parting; their commitment to each other is moving. The picture also looks terrific and features a gorgeous and evocative score of delicate and/or sweeping strings.
But then there is the underlying question: How ethical is this procedure? Although people volunteer to be subjects, they come from such dire economic backgrounds that they may not feel they have a choice. Further to that, many poor countries are hobbled economically by more well-to-do ones.
So have these people been funnelled into this new form of slavery by economic forces? Because, at its core, the film is about slavery: the subjects are trapped in their situation and are used by rich people for their own means. The abuse is merely psychological here, but the lack of personal freedom is unmistakable.
There’s also the race issue. In ‘Transfer’, all of the characters are Caucasian except for the two test subjects. This amplifies the theme of slavery, naturally, but there’s more to it: even Anna and Hermann are wary of being transferred into African bodies – it’s just that their compatibility level gives them no other choice.
Their friends are rather taken aback by the aging couple’s decision, and one gets the impression that it’s not just because the procedure is unusual – it’s partly because of their race as well. In a country that has a well-documented history of horrific racism, the filmmakers’ choice is not just visually striking – it’s bold.
This brings up another interesting question: adaptation. How do the people in the clients’ lives adapt to the fact that they are essentially the same people, but in a completely different body? And are they really the same people? Does this affect their perception of themselves and behaviour? Does the new body provoke changes?
One of my favourite scenes in the whole movie is a clever exchange between Hermann and his best friend, who decides to verify his identity: He publicly has him recall a memory, while subtly putting an ice cube in the drink he’s serving him. To his satisfaction, Hermann promptly removes it and tosses it.
Since he doesn’t like ice in his drinks, his brusque reaction tells his friend it’s really him.
Another interesting question is the matter of having children. Since each body is inhabited by two people (albeit on a 5/1 split), could this not have repercussions on the fetus? And who would take care of the child, given that some of the four people involved may not want it? What are the ethical and legal implications here?
What’s interesting is that ‘Transfer’ doesn’t overtly discuss the issues; instead, it leaves them for the viewer to contemplate. I watched the picture with some friends and we all just sat there reflecting on what was transpiring. It was terrific conversation fodder: as it wrapped-up, we promptly began to talk about it.
The first question was: Would you do it? If you could afford it, would you extend your life this way? Not one person wanted to, with slavery being the biggest objection. But then someone asked if it would be possible for this duality to be symbiotic, as in the case of a subject who can’t function on his/her own.
Hmmm… good question.
‘Transfer’ is a science fiction film in the best sense of the term: instead of being a flashy diversion, it uses fictional science as a tool to pose important questions, much like ‘Never Let Me Go‘ did. For that reason alone, I think that it’s well worth seeing. And, based on the reactions that evening, I’m not alone.
Date of viewing: March 10, 2015