In a world that seems to be little more than a self-perpetuating storm of bad news, sometimes it feels like the only sane choice is to simply unplug oneself entirely. Forget self-care, forget self-help gurus and apps and whatever our phones and social media are shouting at us to try: simply…shut it off. But what if the pain that comes from feeling is worth it? What if that pain is what makes life…life? Kim Albright’s magical realist With Love And A Major Organ (based on the play of the same name written by Julia Lederer) postulates that maybe feeling our feelings is the point of it all.
With Love And A Major Organ is the story of Anabel, a fish out of water in a dying world where emotional expression is limited to bizarre Cronenbergian self-help centers, memories are uploaded to clouds, and most creative endeavors are left up to AI instead of any sort of human demonstration of creativity, filling galleries with banal examples of sterility that citizens pretend to find meaning in. Anabel is an insurance agent at a company that provides coverage for our cloud-based memories, her day-to-day existence punctuated by having lunch in the park. At night, she paints bizarre abstract canvases, expressions of her yearning for color in an otherwise largely colorless world. It is a drab, awful existence, a washed-out Kafka-esque nightmare world where Anabel is the only spot of color. Oh, and human beings can remove their actual hearts (represented by unique totems to each person) and briefly experience lives devoid of emotion before expiring horribly by becoming sand. One day, while having lunch in the park, she encounters George, a man whose adherence to routine is somehow even more dull and soul-sucking than the rest of this decaying world. Anabel becomes infatuated with George, and from there her quietly contained expressions of emotion begin to seep out and lead her down a path of self-discovery.
This is an almost cruelly efficient commentary on loneliness. Despite Anabel’s cheery exterior, Anna Maguire’s portrayal of the character exudes an aching sense of unwanted solitude, a hunger for connection in a world that seems determined to remain disconnected. This craving quite literally colors the scenery at times, turning the film into something resembling a Prince video. And that’s when she has the mask on. When she must deal with the heartache that such a world has made seemingly inevitable, Maguire’s performance becomes unnervingly convincing and triggers a very basic sense of compassion within the viewer. Hamza Haq as George presents us with a different flavor of loneliness. Rather than seeking solitude in artistic expression and the little satisfactions one can salvage from the grinding trek towards the grave, George has retreated into an ironclad routine of reading newspapers a day late, living with his apparenty distant mother, and working a mundane office job. Every day is the same for him. He too appears lonely, but for George it seems as if that loneliness has become a natural state of existence for him. While Anabel seeks any basic emotional link with another human being, George is apparently oblivious that such a thing is possible. It’s a strangely tender view of human existence that is also deeply depressing.
This film might not be for everyone. Tonally it’s kind of all over the place, coming off as indecisive and unfocused at times. There are moments that feel as if the filmmakers are walking the fence on various self-help methods, arguably presenting antidepressants and therapy as mere escapism instead of actual methods of self-improvement, and yet all the while seeming to critique the other end of the self-help spectrum, the vapid brand of empowerment techniques of Tony Robbins and “grindset” social media influencers. It’s a bit off putting but not enough to sour the film entirely, and in the end the film is successful in its basic message on the human condition: feeling feelings is good, and we shouldn’t be afraid of things that make us do so. Life is too short to live as if living absurdly safe will keep us alive forever, and only when we risk that safety can we find any sort of meaning in the madness of it all.