With Love and a Major Organ

With Love and a Major Organ (2023)

“My mother used to tell me that her heart was a ball of yarn,” says Anabel (Anna Maguire) at the beginning of With Love and a Major Organ, as she retraces a line of bright red string wound around trees in a forest, like a heroine of myth or fairytale. “That it could get caught on other people, and they wouldn’t realise her attachment and move further and further away. The more distance that grew between them, the more she would unravel.”

Now this sensitive and imaginative artist, with a tendency both to wear her heart on her sleeve and to perceive her emotions in abstractions or metaphors, has herself become estranged not just from the other people around her, but also from her own mother, although not for want of trying. Anabel reaches out, tells people how she feels, and refuses to be reduced to an algorithmic formula – yet in a world bombarded with endless apocalyptic news, everyone else has learnt to cope through disengagement and detachment, letting LifeZapp (“The brand new super app that will supercharge your life”) make all their relationship decisions for them, purging their unwanted feelings in QuickFreeze exercises (think escape rooms for emotional displacement exercises), and even, as a last resort, pulling out their own hearts, which are now objects that can be discarded, replaced or transferred, although not without consequences. 

With Love and a Human Organ

When Anabel falls head over heels for mama’s boy George (Hamza Haq), only to find him curtly rejecting her declaration, she rips out her heart in a moment of desperation and sends it to him. Now Anabel’s life becomes robotic and unfeeling, while conversely George discovers emotions not entirely his own, loses his job (‘Pointing, Clicking and Scrolling’) and embarks on a quest for new sensory pleasures, creative endeavours and ‘real connection’. Yet with the now heartless Anabel beginning to languish, she finds herself co-opted by George’s mother Mona (Veena Sood) to get George – and her own missing organ – back. 

In other words, Kim Albright’s debut feature, adapted by Julia Lederer from her own theatrical work, plays out issues of the heart in an alternative, allegorical universe that is only a little different from our own. Like Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), like Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem (2013), like Tobias Nölle’s Aloys (2016), like Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney’s Strawberry Mansion (2021) and like Michael Lukk Litwak’s Molli and Max in the Future (2023), With Love and a Major Organ deploys fantasy and genre elements to exaggerate ever so slightly the sense of isolation and alienation facing us all today in a world that is increasingly experienced at a virtual remove. 

Near the start of With Love and a Major Organ, Anabel visits a therapist about her heart problems. The response of Dr Lee (Lynda Boyd) is immediately to ask Anabel about her mother, insisting, “Most issues are somewhat hereditary.” Annabel is dismissive of Lee’s assertion, even though her opening line in the film was in fact a significant reminiscence about her (never seen, soon to be gone) mother whose influence, present or absent, plays an important part in Anabel’s sense of self, while George’s own emotional problems are similarly bound up in his relationship with his mother and her hold on his heart. So Albright’s film is not just about our disconnection in a doom-laden, digital era of the future present, but also about the time-old dysfunctional love between parent and child. Which is to say that this quirky sort-of romance has all the feels – even as it tries violently to suppress them – with a take on the human capacity both to draw others close and to keep them at a distance that is as much psychological as sci-fi. Full of eccentricity and charm, this strange, endearing pitch for retaining or recreating human (and animal) connections in the cyber age is quite the heartfelt yarn. 

strap: In Kim Albright’s dystopian romantic allegory, feelings are out of fashion and the heart is transferrable

© Anton Bitel