SXSW FILM 2014
By Don Simpson | March 8, 2014
Director: Zachary Wigon
Writer: Zachary Wigon
Starring: Kate Lyn Sheil, John Gallagher Jr., David Call, Louisa Krause, Roderick Hill, Halley Wegryn-Gross
Virginia (Kate Lyn Sheil) and Cody (John Gallagher Jr.) are in the midst of a long-distance relationship, even though — oddly enough — they have never met face-to-face. When they first communicated online, Virginia had just relocated to Germany for a six-month writer’s residency at the American Academy in Berlin. Meanwhile, Cody whiles away his time in New York City, waiting to meet Virginia in person.
As is the case with most modern day LDRs, Virginia and Cody rely solely upon regular communication via Skype to stay connected and writer-director Zachary Wigon’s The Heart Machine relishes in the sweet-yet-comfortable mundanity of these interactions. But, like most LDRs, trust plays a major factor in their relationship. Cody becomes increasingly suspicious of Virginia as he pieces together a string of clues that suggest that either he is psychotically paranoid or she is not being truthful.
Wigon cleverly splits the narrative between Virginia and Cody’s perspectives, so we see the way both characters approach their relationship. The Heart Machine does not try to hide the truth of their situation, rather it is about the trials and tribulations of modern communication. Preying on the human tendency to treat online relationships with utmost apprehension and suspicion, Wigon presents a visualization of what many people fret about whenever entering into these types of situations.
The Heart Machine is a perfect example of a film that would not work as a linear narrative. Assembling a seemingly haphazard non-linear collection of key moments in Virginia and Cody’s relationship, Wigon is able to save certain tidbits of information — such as how Virginia and Cody first enter into a committed relationship — until it makes the most sense in terms of further developing the narrative tension.
With the pitch-perfect casting of Kate Lyn Sheil (Sun Don’t Shine) and John Gallagher Jr. (Short Term 12), Wigon could do no wrong with his feature length debut (adapted from his 2012 short film Someone Else’s Heart). Caught within the claustrophobic confines of their characters’ apartments for a majority of the film, Sheil and Gallagher find themselves spending a lot of time simply poised in front of their laptops. Aided by the fact that they rarely within the same locations, Sheil and Gallagher’s awkwardly naive chemistry showcases the odd sense of [dis]connection between their two characters. As we grow increasingly aware of the truth, the subtle intricacies of Sheil and Gallagher’s facial expressions provide the greatest “aha!” moments of the film.
By no means a promotional vehicle for online dating or LDRs, The Heart Machine is certainly not an easy look at love. Wigon’s film is a plea for open and honest communication, whether in the flesh or via the Internet. One can only hope that the scenario presented in The Heart Machine is not based in reality, but it is hard not to assume that Wigon has had his heart deceived by a lover at least once during his lifetime.