Zhenya’s eyes are constantly glued to her phone in Andrey Zvyagintsev’s film Loveless. She doesn’t even realize her 12-year-old son is missing until two days later.
Zvyagintsev uses Loveless to make a statement about the nature of our relationship with technology. The film, a striking personal drama and political allegory set in modern-day Russia, tells the story of two separated parents, Boris and Zhenya, whose son, Alyosha, disappears.
Boris and Zhenya are bitter, distracted and ultimately careless parents when it comes to looking after their son. They’re too preoccupied with their own lives to pay any attention to Alyosha. And it’s not until they realize their son’s missing that they’re forced to search for their child, who’s essentially just a burden — a living reminder of their failed marriage.
Through Zhenya — a narcissistic, phone-obsessed woman who cares more about snapping selfies, checking social media and taking pictures of her food than caring for her own son — Zvyagintsev shows that people are “losing their personal, emotional connections in a hyper-connected material world,” Bedatri D. Choudhury writes in Reverse Shot Magazine.
According to The Wee Review, the film is filled with people “staring vacantly at their phones on the train or taking selfies,” while televisions and radios are broadcasting news of war and political unrest. Women throughout the film are also frequently portrayed as being infatuated with selfies and handing out their phone numbers to complete strangers, Bilge Ebiri writes in The Village Voice.
“This passion for selfies is like a virus that spreads all over the world, like an illness of modern-day society,” Zvyagintsev told The Village Voice.
In a scene where the search party can’t find Alyosha anywhere, Zvyagintsev employs a “visual metaphor of a large, TV antenna looming in the background” to reiterate the fact that, at the end of the day, our technological devices fail to even help us locate a lost child. We never find out if Alyosha ran away, was kidnapped or if he’s alive or dead.
We know being on our phones all the time is detrimental to our well-being and our ability to connect with people in real life. One study found that people who had a phone on the table had lower quality of conversation and lower levels of empathy than those who didn’t. The mere presence of an untouched phone is enough to prevent us from connecting with another person.
With that in mind, more and more films and TV shows these days are reflecting the reality of our society’s phone addiction. Black Mirror episodes explore potential dystopian societies that could result from our tech obsession, and Spike Jonze’s Her (2013) gives us a glimpse into the complicated romantic relationship between a human and AI. Despite the prominent role smartphones plays in our lives, it’s important to remember that our human relationships should always take priority.