The Mechanical Child

The Mechanical Child, 6 minutes, 2017
Commissioned by Catalyst Arts for the Flatpack Film Festival

Taking a 1950s case study by psychiatrist Bruno Bettelheim as its jumping off point, The Mechanical Child explores the complex and fluid relationships between humans, machines and foreign bodies. Bettelheim’s subject was Joey, a young autistic boy who believed he was a robot. Joey’s story is combined with a network of other text and image references to create a complex musing on the human condition.

The screen is filled by a lump of wet, pliable clay; a material commonly used in trauma therapy when verbal interaction has failed. Balancing on a sculptor’s pole, it waits patiently to be afforded form by a human hand. Collated images are overlaid by a scripted voice-over, collaged from texts contemplating the fluid nature of identity. Snippets from Bettelheim’s analysis flash on screen, as voices compare notes on some unspecified recipe for humanity – ‘no, no, no, no, no – that’s not right. Not enough empathy’, as if some unseen Frankenstein’s monster has yet again failed its Turing Test.

“By intricately clashing and weaving together a host of historical and contemporary sources, Doran constructs a thrilling study into what it means to be human at a time when the term has never been more mutable and fluid.”