For a film that takes place entirely within the confines of the main character's computer screen, the Belgian Thomas in Love
is amazingly interesting stuff. Set in the near future, it gets off (so to speak) to a rollicking, libidinous start, as the titular Thomas Thomas engages in some online sexplay with a virtual bimbette of exceedingly ample proportions. Cybersex in the future is far more, ah, realistic than anything we seem to have in our current dark ages, and Thomas, an agoraphobe who hasn't left his apartment in eight long years, is desperate for human contact but unable to make any. As he repeatedly tells the people he meets via his visiophone, “I don't go outside, and no one comes in.” It's a problematic lifestyle, to be sure, but in the future, agoraphobia is handily classified as a serious handicap, which allows Thomas -- who we never see but constantly hear, his husky, sonorous voice (Verhaert) offering the steady, mundane patter of a man stuck forever in his own head -- all sorts of benefits from the state-sanctioned insurance company. One of those benefits is that he is allowed a prostitute every now and again (state-sanctioned, of course), a fine idea for a recluse, but one that only leads to problems when Thomas begins to obsess over the beautiful Eva (Yay), who he calls one day and catches her crying through her make-up. And then there's the hippified Melodie (Pinglaut), who Thomas meets as part of the online dating service he has been forcibly enrolled in by his therapist (Topart), a fellow with one of the most interesting faces since The City of Lost Children.
Open and gregarious, the flighty Eva isn't turned off by Thomas' handicap, and at one point even goes so far as to buy a cybersex suit for herself so the two of them can finally get to know each other somewhat more intimately. Thomas the perpetual voyeur, however, finds the experience far more satisfying than Eva, who dubs the experiment “creepy.” The next time he calls her, well, let's just say the relationship is a disconnect. Which is what this film is really about, I think, the human disconnection inherent in an increasingly technologically oriented society. The illusion of intimacy provided by the online world -- with its wealth of chat rooms, dating services, and, lest we forget the single greatest driving force in any technological revolution, i.e., sex -- is tackled with great wit and an excellent script. You'd think 97 minutes of staring into a computer screen would be a deadly dull affair, but Renders crams the screen with eye-catching window dressing and some very watchable performances (including Hardy as Thomas' Woody Allen-esque mother). The ending has a real kick to it as well; Renders never lets the film taper off. Great fun to watch, thoughtful and timely, Thomas in Love
is likely to generate some decidedly interesting post-film conversations as well.