Predating demonlover‘s hypertext narrative with her now two-year-old camp-cult sci-fi gem Teknolust, Lynn Hershman-Leeson took up some of the same issues: Can an ambitious woman protect her power? Is technology moral? Is body-on-body sex outmoded? Both movies explore the dynamics of cyber-sexuality. But instead of moving like a cool surveillance camera over the shiny surfaces of lupine, globe-trotting fantasists, and positing the female condition as a torture-porn swirl, Teknolust‘s close-quarter humanism explores the fragments of female identity. Its nerdy scientist protagonist wrestles with the emerging selfhood of the three website-sequestered clones she has fabricated from her own DNA.
It’s a quiet tour de force for Tilda Swinton, who plays researcher Rosetta Stone and her feisty but fragile alter egos. As Stone, she’s a patient, platitudinous Prospero to her “children,” designing cozy, primary-colored environments in which they lounge, robe-clad, like Star Trek drag queens. Dark-haired Ruby, star of a lucrative web portal promising soulful intimacy, is allowed to venture out to harvest the requisite male sperm the clones brew as used-condom tea. Problems begin when the gals get bored with their diet of jizz and pulp flicks. One of them invents her own language. They steal Rosetta’s credit card to cybershop and discuss hacking the code for cloning. Worse, Ruby’s male partners begin to evidence bar code rashes and impotence. Two low-key investigators (James Urbaniak and trannie-mode Karen Black) try to crack the epidemic.
Of course, this is all a setup for existential rumination. On alienation: Adorably self-effacing copy-shop guy Sandy (Jeremy Davies) tells his mother before he meets dream girl Ruby, “I meet many, many women, and they all get upset with me.” On motherhood: Rosetta replies to her distressed clones, “Ashamed of you? I couldn’t be prouder of you. You’re the work of my life.” On the miracle of intimacy: When Sandy discovers Ruby’s ability to flicker the lights with her electromagnetic fields, he gently plays orchestra conductor to her movements.
Creative urges and beautiful flaws define the film. Its palette, which recalls Dick Tracy‘s comic frames, is blunted by ’70s B-movie earth tones, as in Rosetta’s wood-paneled kitchen cabinets and her own luminous beige blandness. Sandy’s Kinko-drone copies swoop and blur with outsider-art panache as he sways to the din of the scanner motors. The music of his copy room fades into a tribal disco-diva number, to which the three (now ochre-clad) Tildas perform an outré dance for their Tildan creator. And in a camp throwback to Splash-style fish out of water-ism, Ruby says of the ingredients in Sandy’s mom’s mixing bowl, “It’s a beautiful color.” Ma replies, “Yes, it’s borscht. I’ll give you the recipe.” Recalling the recipe for making human replicants, Ruby replies, “I’ve got a recipe too,” and after pausing a moment, adds, “It’s a different kind of borscht.”