The Dystopia of Perfection in Teleios
Other Worlds Austin brings class systems to space travel
By Richard Whittaker,
12:45PM, Mon. Apr. 17, 2017
In space, no one can hear you do crunches. In sci-fi thriller Teleios, the crew of a spaceship are supposed to be physically perfect, and that had to be reflected in the cast. Writer/director Ian Truitner said, "Those aren't painted abs. Those are the real deal."
This Wednesday, Teleios kicks off the 2017 season of year-round programming from science-fiction film festival Other Worlds Austin. Truitner originally submitted the space thriller for the main festival, "and then I didn't get in. I was like, 'Ah, dammit.' But I think [OWA founder] Bears Fonte remembered the film, and gave it its own little showcase."
In his film, the Teleios is dispatched on a rescue mission to a mining ship, the Atromitos, orbiting Saturn's largest moon, Titan. The entire crew of the Teleios is made up of genetically engineered humans, known as GC, who find that there are only two surviving members on the Atromitos: a non-genetically engineered human (Weetus Cren), and a robot AI (known as Arts, played here by Ursula Mills). Their job is to recover the ship's payload, and uncover what happened to the rest of the crew, but instead they find themselves in a three-way battle for survival and superiority.
The Greek word teleios means perfection: So what the film is really about, Truitner said, is that "we, as humans, naturally want to categorize people. The core is the social division that occurs among humans innately when we think that something or someone is better than another."
While the smooth finish and high-tech look of Teleios is visually the polar opposite of Blade Runner, Truitner called it "one of my favorite films, and definitely an inspiration for this." In Ridley Scott's future-noir classic, the replicants have been engineered to fulfill the Tyrell Corporation motto of "More human than human" but are treated as disposable tools. In Teleios the three forms of humanity – regular, GC, and arts – are caught in a tense balance and a race for superiority.
As for the other big SF influence, Truitner sees Teleios as part of the post-Alien era, where the future will not necessarily be your friend. "Even 2001 had this idea that science and technology are going to present this beautiful stuff, these perfect things. Alien, the spaceship looks like a nuclear submarine from the 1960s. Stylistically, Alien infused the dystopian aspect into sci-fi."
The dystopian background to Teleios, Truitner said, is that "the AIs were originally the superior ones." The AIs had rebelled, and baseline homo sapiens faced a foe deliberately designed to be better than its creator. So it's the GC humans who supplanted the AIs, and shoved them to the bottom of the hierarchy of humanity. As for the arts, he said, "They're relegated to doing all the shitty work, but knowing that they're superior. Knowing that they're physically, mentally, intellectually superior, but for some reason they're the ones stuck sweeping the streets."
Truitner added, "It's sort of like when one country defeats another one, there's that constant attached to the loser, and that constant 'We're the winners' attached to the victors. So AIs to them are nothing, and even the regular humans have a greater level of attachment and respect for AIs than the genetically modified humans do."
The idea of the victor writing the rules is scarcely new, but Truitner's story of social strata, and the terrifying potential of gene tampering, has found a new timeliness. He said, "We have the Trumps in the White House, and they're the epitome of this bourgeois class of superior humans who were born into everything that money could buy. So I feel like, in the future, when genetic modification does happen – and it will happen – we're going to see an even further division of social classes."
Other Worlds Austin presents Teleios, 7:30pm, April 19, at Flix Brewhouse, 2200 S. I-35, Round Rock. Tickets at www.flixbrewhouse.com.
For more on Other Worlds Austin, visit www.otherworldsaustin.com