“Say something concrete!”, shouts Zait (Numan Acar), the protagonist of In The Shadows (Gölgeler İçinde). He is frustrated by the endless riddling abstractions that the Repairman (Vedat Erincin) keeps offering to explain what is going on – but in fact plenty is concrete in writer/director Erdem Tepegoz’s dystopia which – with its rocks, rubble and ruins, its mud and mess, its rusting analogue machinery and crumbling Soviet-style factories – comes closer to the post-lapsarian zones of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979) or to the backward planet of Aleksei German’s Hard To Be a God (2013) than to the CG-heavy fantasias of so much other science fiction. Everything here seems mired in its own materiality and mortality.
Nonetheless, there is something – besides all the structural decay – rotten in this place. As Zait and his colleagues loyally work the mine and then toil over the ore that they have extracted for a purpose that nobody there seems to understand or question, they are ruled by aloof authorities who reside behind closed doors, issue orders through tinny-sounding tannoys, and observe everything on ubiquitous CCTV cameras. Food arrives weekly in rationed packages, accommodation in dilapidated sheds comes as part of the job, water is free, and labour is all. Workers deemed weak or ill (by automated medical check-ups) are ‘sent away’, while newcomers arrive to take their place. This is an infernal system, but everyone in it is too overworked and exhausted to ask why things are as they are, or what else might be built from its wreckage. Yet one day, shortly after the collapse of an underground shaft that nearly kills Zait, he will be passed as healthy by the medical monitor, even though he knows he has an injured arm. These will be the first in a series of signs that Zait begins noticing of the system’s essential, inherent instability, which will lead him initially towards curious investigation, and then to violent revolt.
The class allegory of In The Shadows shows how the proletariat can simultaneously be enslaved to, and willingly maintain, a collapsing order, their voluntary participation procured with the most meagre of living conditions. In this automated world, the ruling élites are not only distant, but need not even exist, as the system perpetuates itself with workers content to be cogs in the machine. Though the means of production are constantly breaking down, and the products themselves have no clear value, this is a circular, Sisyphean society from which there can be no easy escape, perhaps no escape at all, as everyone becomes stuck on its treadmill.
As such, Tepegoz’s feature is a bleakly dispiriting portrait of late-stage capitalism, where tyranny, systemic sickness and self-destructive upheaval come built in as part of a mechanism that is both uncannily abstract and utterly concrete.
© Anton Bitel