These events take place a short time before the geeks inherit the earth—it’s the early ’80s, to be precise, when a coterie of the bespectacled and socially awkward gather at an anonymous chain hotel for an artificial-intelligence chess competition. It’s supposed to be a straightforward three days, with the winning programmers competing against the placidly officious event organizer (Gerald Peary) for top honors. But much like the bulky technology peddled by these low-rent Gates and Jobs facsimiles, things soon take on a strange, surreal life of their own.
Writer-director Andrew Bujalski shot this singular satire on a vintage black-and-white tube camera, and the result is otherworldly—part mockumentary exposé and part alien transmission. Imagine the third, mind-bending act of 2001 done as a somnambulant stoner comedy, and you’ll have some idea of the effect. Brains and base instincts are intertwined: Pot is indeed shared among several of the principals, and there’s one hilariously ungraceful offer of group sex. But then there are the headier occurrences, like the computer that seems to be steadily outpacing the thought processes of its creator, resulting in a particularly gut-busting use of a sonogram image. Or those white felines that slink around the hotel corridors, tormenting one of the characters like a Lolcat meme before its time. What’s past is prescient, and what it all means is beside the point. Let’s just say Bujalski has made a prankishly out-of-time movie about that other AI: mankind.
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