Silicon Docks

Silicon Docks (2022)

“A man walks into a bar…”, is the set-up for countless old jokes. Yet in writer/director Graham Jones’ Silicon Docks, set in Dublin, the city of bars (and jokes), the biggest joke is that all the pubs are shut, leaving a pub-crawling party out stranded in the cold and eventually the rain, their all-too-human vulnerability exposed to the natural elements. 

This is no ordinary party. For these are America’s superrich, superpowerful tech giants, a disparate collective of iconic owners, influencers and disruptors who control the world’s information, and who are now trying to determine together whether they will or will not sign their names to a ‘Voluntary Containment Guideline Pact’ – to avoid the passage of a new European law which will strictly regulate the flow of data and limit the spread of misinformation and propaganda. Yet this is late 2020, in the middle of the Covid lockdown, but too early for the vaccine – and so this global élite are unable to assemble either in one another’s luxurious European HQs on Silicon Docks, or even in their hotels – and so they are left roaming the streets and parks, engaging with actual, mostly critical Dubliners, and having to face the real world beyond their own virtual realms. 

Google and Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer (voiced by Grace Power) has brought together her ex from Google Larry Page (Shane Lynch), Google’s Sergey Brin (Brendan McDonald), Google and Youtube’s Susan Wojcicki (Fiona Bawn-Thompson), Facebook/Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg (Bobby Calloway), Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel (also Calloway), Twitter’s Jack Dorsey (Rob Smith), Netflix’s Reed Hastings (Gerry Cannon), Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (Matthew McMahon) and his fellow space-racer Elon Musk (José Naghmar). They may form a disgruntled group, but these folk go back a long time. So as they walk and talk, as they try to settle their differences and rivalries and tangled histories, and as they contemplate a future which they know they will all help shape, they are haunted, to lesser or greater degrees, by the spectre of Trump, and their rôle in facilitating his rise to power and possibly in maintaining it. 

From the moment, early on, that Musk turns on a neurolinguistic implant in his neck that alters his phrasing and accent to ‘Irish’ in a ludicrous attempt to fit in with his local environment, it is clear that Silicon Docks is going for absurdist satire. Here Zuckerberg is a petulant, naïve, somewhat robotic manchild, Bezos imagines charity is a reasonable substitute for paying taxes, and Dorsey is an insufferably pretentious hipster who wears a facemask with holes in it so that he may continue eating and drinking – while the older Google folk try to impose some sort of map to reason.

Accentuating the cartoonish nature of the characterisation, Silicon Docks is presented in animated form, with these recognisable tech bros brought to schlubby, cel-shaded life by Kasia Wiśniewska. As the billionaires get lost, fail to communicate and struggle to justify the unjustifiable to themselves and each other, Silicon Docks is not just a low-key comedy of manners exposing the flaws and foibles of ten undistinguished-seeming men and women who just happen to be the grand architects of the universe, but also a city symphony, with familiar Dublin locations transformed by Sonia Egan into a beautiful expressionist and impressionist playground. 

Unusually, the filmmakers volunteered all their labour during the pandemic, and Silicon Docks is being made available to view entirely gratis on one of the very platforms that is here gently lampooned. It is a funny, sly and dispiriting portrait of the people in charge of, and made rich by, all our online lives – and while its focus may be on self-styled disruptors, its free mode of release is perhaps the biggest disruption of all. 

strap: Graham Jones’ satirical animated feature sends familiar American tech billionaires on an odyssey through locked-down Dublin

© Anton Bitel