Heavy Knitwear Science Fiction, Introducing a Sub-genre

Every now and then I discover a specific sub-genre of film in which so many of my favourite films fit. Sadly these sub-genres don’t actually exist so it is up to me to name and define them. I’ll start with a sub-genre I’ve mumbled about in the past; Heavy Knitwear Science Fiction or HeKniSciFi for short.

What are you talking about?
Heavy Knitwear Science Fiction covers all of those films in which there is a strong science fiction element at the crux of the plot and the film’s main focus is on the emotions of the characters rather than the fictional science itself.

Science Fiction tends to be quite futuristic, have a cast of characters in form-fitting clothing, and the futuristic technology is sleek and shiny. In a HeKniSciFi film the characters do tend to be wearing a lot of knitwear (just look at the image above) and the technology is often much more rustic. It is the difference between a man in Lycra on a spaceship travelling through time and a man in a sweater on a farm travelling through time and being emotional about it.

Sci-Fi has science fiction driving the plot throughout whereas HeKniSciFi takes the science fiction as a catalyst and then concerns itself with focussing on how miserable everyone is (in the best possible way.) Budgets are lower; you can expect a lot more wood and natural fibres in the furnishings in a HeKniSciFi and infinitely fewer explosions.

What’s wrong with Science Fiction?
Absolutely nothing! Did I say there was anything wrong with Science Fiction? You are being very defensive.

My only issue is that I think the term Sci-Fi automatically conjures up an image of humanoid aliens and galaxies far, far away and doesn’t accurately represent the full spectrum of the genre. Later I will list films that fall within HeKniSciFi and I hope that you will agree that while they contain fictional science they are a far cry from Sci-Fi.

Give me an example
A good comparative example comprises of Michael Bay’s 2005 action adventure film The Island and Mark Romanek’s 2011 indie drama Never Let Me Go. A look at a still from each film should give a good idea of what I am writing about:

The top image shows the leads in The Island, the bodysuits just scream Sci-Fi while the second image of three young adults with wavy hair could be taken from any indie drama of recent years. And yet they have the same plot. Both feature individuals in a secluded society who discover that they are clones who will eventually have their organs harvested when someone in the outside world needs them.

In The Island the clones live in an underground compound, wear tight white bodysuits, and upon discovering the truth go an adventure to find their real selves while being chased by a mercenary. As this is Michael Bay you can rest assured that explosions and fast bikes are included.

In Never Let Me Go the clones are brought up in an English boarding school, wear heavy knitwear, and upon discovering the truth do very little about it. While they do have a day trip to find one of their real selves the focus of the film is on the central love triangle. There are no explosions beyond Andrew Garfield shouting on a beach.

The Island is a glossy product, one in which Bay tries to keep you entertained and does not worry too much about the emotion side of the story. In Never Let Me Go everything is that little bit more textured and the characters are brought much more to the surface. The Island is shiny metal and Never Let Me Go is scuffed wood. The Island is Sci-Fi and Never Let Me Go is HeKniSciFi.

What other films fit the genre?
Other films in this genre include Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (a man wipes his memory of a past love and in doing so relives their relationship), Another Earth (a young woman falls in love with a man whose family she accidentally killed while a second Earth appears in the sky), Womb/Clone (a woman gives birth to a clone of her dead boyfriend and experiences confusing emotions), and Cold Souls (an actor literally swaps his soul to better act in a Chekhov play). In each of these films there is a fictional technology at the film’s core but our focus is on the emotions of the lead character. They all feature heavy knitwear too but that is not an essential requirement.

The next time you see a low-budget film with a high concept and a chunky jumper just think about it. Are you watching Sci-Fi or HeKniSciFi? Does Looper fit the bill or Safety Not Guaranteed? Discuss.

Out Now – 4th May 2012

Silent House
Indie cinema’s latest wunderkind Elizabeth Olsen stars in this haunted house horror. The story is told in real time and with no visible cuts, the action unfold in, what looks like, a single camera take. I am guaranteed to watch this from behind my hands. I can’t wait.

Jason Statham has outdone himself. This time he is playing an ex-cage fighter protecting a young girl who is being hunted by the Russian mafia, Triads and corrupt members of the NYPD. Good grief Statham, what next? Jason Statham as a retired Ninja Geisha on the run from Aslan the lion, the reincarnation of Hitler, and his own clone?

Angel & Tony (limited release)
A Frenchman teaches a beautiful young woman how to fish. And presumably she eats for a lifetime.

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (limited release)
“A tale of revenge, honor and disgrace” involving at least one Samurai. SPOILER ALERT: He dies.

Beauty and the Beast 3D (limited release)
Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, Beauty and the Beast in 3D. Ask me nicely and I’ll sing you this new version of the classic Disney tune. Just call me Mrs. Potts.

Juan of the Dead (limited release)
Imagine Shaun of the Dead with zombie Cubans instead of a naked Peter Serafinowicz. Can you get a Cornetto in Cuba?

Goodbye First Love (limited release)
A foreign romantic drama for all you love birds out there. I remember my first love, we were four and her dad drove a milk float. Where are you now Jennifer?

Two Years at Sea (limited release)
Documentary about Jake, a man who lives alone in the middle of the forest and avoids most human contact. Field trip anyone?

Le Quai des Brumes (limited release)
French re-release from the late 1930s in which “a military deserter finds love and trouble (and a small dog) in a smoky French port city”. I wonder whether the small dog was the love or the trouble?

Dinotasia (limited release)

Monsieur Lazhar (limited release)
Comedy drama about suicide and loss from the Frenchy end of Canada. A teacher commits suicide and their replacement must help the students deal with their grief. Sounds laugh a minute.

Piggy (limited release)
Violent British feature about grief, revenge, plot twists, and “over 90 uses of strong language and seven uses of very strong language, six of which are spoken and one of which occurs in the form of graffiti on a wall.”

Clone (London West End only)
I saw Clone back when it was called Womb in 2010 and it was beautiful if more than a little bizarre. Eva Green plays a woman who impregnates herself with the clone of her dead lover, Matt Smith, after he dies. Things do not go smoothly.

Womb – Review

In Womb Eva Green and Matt Smith are childhood sweethearts who meet up again once they’re all grown up. Cue a tragic accident and suddenly Eva Green is pregnant with a clone of her former lover. The rest of the two hours are filled with weird relationships and uncomfortable moments.

Womb is similar to Never Let Me Go in that it features a scientific advancement that forms the basis of the plot while focusing on people’s relationships and heavy knitwear. It also shares Peter Wight and Lesley Manville from Another Year as Smith’s parents which is amusing if you see both films within a few days of one another.

Womb is slow, tragic and beautiful. It’s certainly not an easy watch and isn’t necessarily what you’d call enjoyable but certainly provides an interesting watch. If you aren’t squirming in your seat and debating the morality of what you’re watching then you’re not watching it right. This is not a date movie, and certainly not one to watch with your parents. Lovely directing though the dialogue could perhaps do with some work.

After the film writer/director Benedek Fliegauf, Leslie Manville and Peter Wight did a short Q&A session, which consisted of Mike Leigh comparisons and the question of why it had to end the way it did. Fliegauf described the film as a fairy tale rather than a sci-fi, the different apprently being an emphasis on emotions rather than the dynamics of the fictional science.

In conclusion Womb is a good film, just not one I’d actually like to recommend to someone. Luckily the UK distribution is not yet sorted so you’ll have to wait to see Matt Smith run naked into the sea.