Film run-time: 11 minutes | Starring Alex Paxton-Beesley, Christopher Jacot
Written and Directed by Ray Wong, Produced by Sabena Kapil, Cinematography by Kris Belchevski
“Burnt Grass“, a 2014 short film by Ray Wong, is a thought experiment on the consequences of adulterating the human experience. Given the singularity of the human condition, at what point do we find a moral objection to its modification, and at what point does a deviation from it result in a devastating rejection of the newfound paradigm? Jack and Sally, a couple who finds a smoldering pit in their backyard, discovers that it has an unusual ability to duplicate organic objects.
The crux of what generates tension in “Burnt Grass” is, unsurprisingly, not the patch of land’s unique ability to duplicate items, but rather the social impact this capacity has on the singular experience of the human condition. What happens when a monogamous relationship is interrupted by a polygamous third-party, albeit a replica of one of its members? The solipsistic imperative of an individual’s consciousness dictates that one must be, if not the pinnacle of society, at the very least the pinnacle of self. When one is denied even that certainty, there comes undoubtedly a paranoia that stresses the status quo.
This exploration of identity is further expounded through the relative ease of acceptance of the duplicated Sally, as compared to the organic objects she duplicates before undergoing the process herself. Jack takes a great suspicion to the foods she’s taken to replicating; he is unsure if they are safe to eat or not. Yet, when confronted with a second Sally, there is no defining fear, no underlying guilt, at least initially; it is a commentary on our near-absolute faith in the authenticity of self, and the absoluteness of our constructs of self.
When faced with the morality of this phenomenon, the emphasis is once again on the implications of identity: who is the “real” person, what constitutes fairness when both are biologically, if not temporally, the same, and should there be a deference to the original, if the duplicate is in every respect identical? Capped with the ultimate crisis of identity, a crisis of mortality, the film is an acerbic witness of the complete trust we have in our identities, and the resulting blowout when we lose control of that—a territory that has been mined in science fiction for decades, and artfully explored here.