I was invited to view The John Experiment by its co-creator and voice of IVY, Lux Karpov Kinrade. As one half of publishing and marriage duo Karpov Kinrade, Lux has a great many talents to her name: many books, a USA Today Bestselling author title, a romance game on the Dorian app, and an inclination toward illustration. Bear in mind this is only skimming the surface of this particular artist’s interests based on my rugged research (citation: “paying attention to Facebook for a few months”).
We’ve been acquainted with one another for a while since we’re both SFF-loving indie authors of a similar “generation.” A similar interest in movies only recently came to my attention when Lux began posting about her film festival experiences and I started posting movie reviews. Turns out we’re both obsessives about a lotta similar things.
So when she asked if I wanted to watch her movie, my tits got real jacked.
To my pleasure, “The John Experiment” is a short film that invites interpretation–my favorite kind. I adore it when I get to watch something and then be Extremely Opinionated About What It Really Means. Hence, I decided to write an analysis of the film before asking Lux Karpov Kinrade anything about it in the style of my usual reviews.
Spoilers for The John Experiment from this point onward. (All images credit to Lux Karpov Kinrade and Dmytry Karpov Kinrade.)
Be aware: STROBE WARNING. The John Experiment contains explicit on-screen death by suicide. Themes of death and possible implied child abuse.
In a focused fifteen minutes of film, The John Experiment takes us from an apparent thought experiment (can hot-button tech like AI help us heal from grief?) into a metaphoric space of punishment (do you deserve to heal from grief?).
John is doing therapy in a sparse red room, like a studio apartment stripped of personality. He spends much of his time in bed. When he’s not in bed, he’s at his laptop at a small white table. The only method of physical interaction with the outside world is an unremarkable white cabinet. From this cabinet, John can retrieve his coffee or expel bodily waste. These things are cared for by IVY, an AI character voiced by Lux Karpov-Kinrade.
Also, John seems to be trying to write an email to his wife, and it’s not going great.
Ostensibly, the purpose of John and disembodied IVY semi-coexisting is for IVY to help John overcome his grief. The email changes throughout the course of the film as John begins to accept his own role in a baby’s death. He stops blaming his wife as much.
Eventually, John even admits he should have checked on the baby instead of watching football.
If that was the point of IVY and the red room, I guess that would be the end of the movie, huh?
Unfortunately John is still trapped. Initially it’s not clear whether he’s suffering from psychosis or not–is there really a baby crying?–and his distress rises as he should be healing.
Maybe John isn’t telling the whole truth to himself, to his wife, or to the audience.
The room isn’t getting smaller, but it’s getting “smaller” as he realizes how little control he has over the situation.
The white cabinet permitting ingress and egress of Things to John’s room is not there for him, and exiting the room is simply not an option. John wants to go home to his wife.
IVY says, “I’m sorry Hal, but I can’t do that,” or something to that effect. He signed a contract.
The therapeutic room changes in increasingly distressing ways. John cannot access the internet to talk to his wife anymore. There’s a new picture in the room: a red circle upon a white field, bold and accusatory, and here to tell half of the story with its abstract form.
Why is such a red circle so upsetting to John?
Why is John’s room so red?
Hey, let’s take a look back to his video chat with his wife, Ana, at the beginning of the movie.
These two were permitted one conversation, where Ana begged for John to get out of the program. She was bothered by how little he was allowed to take in, and even more so, how he doesn’t seem allowed “out.”
Initially, John is not so terribly bothered being trapped in the red room.
He still has comforting sources of blue refuge: video chat with his wife, his mug, the bedspread under which he is usually lying to do therapy, and parts of the painting. Anything signaling comfort is blue. Blue is hope and peace in Western color theory, and this applies to John’s world.
But there is that damn red dot painting.
It’s like the redness of it all doesn’t want John to find refuge. It wants him to see that he is in the red place.
The red dot upon white can be emblematic of so many things: The nipple a baby nurses upon, the roundness of a pregnant belly, the sphere of a newborn’s head. In Western culture, red is often hostile and angry. It is a bloody evocation of John’s sins.
Because as we established, if this was a therapeutic environment, he would have probably already made enough progress to leave.
If John is in Hell, communicating with Ana in Heaven, we could read deeper meaning into this than parental neglect. John’s fury over a crying baby could be the normal frustration of a sleepless parent, the pain of a grieving parent, or a sign that this man gets *real* angry when he hears a baby cry.
Though the size of John’s grief could belong to anyone struggling, the heightened emotional state in the end, and Ana’s position in a “blue place,” suggest a family annihilation to me. That red dot is the bloody thumbprint of his legacy, and he will never reconcile his actions enough to exit that red room.
The John Experiment is supported primarily by a compelling, human performance by Evan Gaustad as John. This movie was produced, directed and written by Lux Karpov Kinrade and Dmytry Karpov Kinrade. This was an Official Selection at the LA Sci Fi Film Festival.
Lux assures me this film will be available for streaming once it leaves the festival circuit, so keep an eye out for future updates.