While Prague in the year 2041 is plagued with crime, violence and death, the Institute of Restoration has a medicalised, technological solution. Provided that you regularly upload your brain data to a recording device, whether you are killed by accident or on purpose, the Institute can revive you at the most recent data’s so-called restore point, your body fixed and your identity reinstated, if slightly rewound. It is a little bit like, after losing at a videogame, resetting to the place where you last saved.
This technology, currently paid for by the State, ensures that premature death need no longer be permanent. There is one drawback: brain data must be collected at least every 48 hours, as beyond that point, resurrection becomes unstable and indeed illegal. Yet amid a spate of terror attacks ascribed to a Luddite group known as “River of Life”, the Institute of Restoration is developing a new system that will constantly, automatically upload brain data, making ‘absolute’ death that much less likely – and to fund this, it is moving towards privatisation.
Police Detective Emma ‘Em’ Trochinowska (Andrea Mohylová), who harbours a deep grudge against River of Life after her own brush with absolute death two years earlier, is currently investigating a double murder. Neither victim – David Kurlstat (Matej Hádek) and his wife Kristina (Katarzyna Zawadzka) – has uploaded their brain data, making Restoration impossible, which is particularly strange given that David was a key developer of the Restoration process. Em’s investigation will see her interviewing the Institute’s obnoxious CEO Rohan (Karel Dobry), pursuing the chief suspect Viktor Toffer (Milan Ondrik) and his off-grid aunt (Iveta Dusková), having to stay several steps ahead of Europol Agent Mansfeld (Václav Neužil), and joining forces with someone who ought not to be around and who can no longer remember his key rôle in recent events. As she finds corruption, conspiracy and cover-up at every turn, Em starts to question the value of a life that, though extended, has been reduced to a mere product – and a product that keeps paying for itself.
Director Robert Hloz’s feature debut, which he co-wrote with Tomislav Čečka and Zdenek Jecelín, offers a dystopian tomorrow which also reflects, through a dark glassly, where we are, or at least are headed, today. For in its urban futurescapes of lives merged with technology, of propagandistic advertising everywhere, of illicit data-gathering, of guru-like tech giants, of class divisions, of corporate hegemony and of fake news and consent manufactured by fear, it is hard not to recognise our own present. Em may be fiercely independent, but she is operating in an environment where ‘the greater good’ is defined by private multinational interests to which the State is increasingly becoming a servant.
Restore Point (Bod obnovy) poses questions about whether it is possible, and how, to be a good citizen in a bad system. For the Ancient Romans living under Empire, the answer to that question was not just to lead a good life, but to have a good death (often under horrific circumstances of imposed suicide) – but in this new technocratic superstate, even the possibility of death is taken away, and martyrdom is typically temporary. Here the only consequential acts of murder are to remove someone’s ability to update their data and create a viable Restore Point, or to erase those data via hacking, while the real radicals are those who conscientiously refuse to sign on to Restore Point, preferring to live (and die) naturally, which is to say, just the one time.
Restoration has an obvious advantage (prolonged life) to match its downsides (exploitable enslavement to the fear of death, surrender of highly personal data to big business) – and the real villains here are not the technology itself but those humans who would control it for profit and power. As a ‘maverick’ cop temperamentally immune to outside influence, Em is well placed to find a way through all the smoke and mirrors to some difficult truths. Yet in this compromised future, Restore Point ultimately leaves room, if not quite for redemption, then for the possibility, enhanced by the film’s resuscitative premise, of a second chance and more harmonious prospects.
Partly reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) and Christian Volckman’s Renaissance (2006), both of which similarly send hardboiled noir ’tecs on the trail of plots involving the unnatural extension of life, Hloz’s cyberpunk feature nonetheless forges its own path in three different ways: an original premise that raises all sorts of philosophical questions about mortality, personal identity and responsibility; a female protagonist who is never cowed by her many male antagonists; and an unusual sci-fi location in a neon-lit, futurist Prague – a city which, even now, is constantly having to renegotiate its status as a national capital, a member of the EU, and a client of globalised big business.
The various elements in play through the plot of Restore Point may at times be imparted obliquely, and require close attention to get to the bottom of what is at stake – but if you miss any key detail, you can always rewind and relive it.
strap: In Robert Hloz’s cyberpunk noir, a life-extending tech attracts corporate power play, Luddite resistance and ‘absolute’ murder
© Anton Bitel