starring Adam Ild Rohweder, Paulina Galazka, Pit Bukowski, Amanda Plummer
written by Anna de Paoli & Linus de Paoli
directed by Linus de Paoli
by Walter Chaw The storyline goes like this: Rey, the young woman in the new Star Wars trilogy, is a "Mary Sue"--a term used to describe a female character who is born fully-formed and, therefore, undeserving of her status as the hero of the story, any story. It's an argument made by mediocre men, usually mediocre white men, who have gathered together over social media to share their frustrations about how, essentially, their own worthiness has never been recognized by a world designed, now, to overlook and disdain them. It wasn't supposed to be this way. The parallel storyline is that women are usually murdered by men they know--ex-lovers or spurned would-be lovers--and that the best indicator for murderous gun violence is a history of domestic violence. We hold these truths now to be self-evident. And suddenly these mediocre men who used to get pushed into lockers and demeaned for their solitary interests are the masters of our culture, our industry, our government. There were warnings about this in films like The Last American Virgin and Revenge of the Nerds, remembering that the triumphant happy ending of the latter entailed one of the nerd heroes raping the girlfriend of the lead jock...and the girlfriend liking it a lot. Masculinity has always been this mash of the tragic and the toxic. It's irresolvable, though at least there can be better awareness.
A Young Man with High Potential plays with a lot of thorny topics over the course of its brief runtime. Even the title is loaded with the favoured, culturally-mandated description of young, mediocre white men who one day, out of frustration over their own inadequacies and society's disinclination to reward them, decide to murder a lot of people. Piet has the opportunity to change the direction of events, but he doesn't. He has the opportunity to rape Klara, but finds he can't get it up without fluffing from his online peep-show. He has the opportunity to save Klara, but Klara dies. The film has a framing story with an investigator (Amanda Plummer) looking into Klara's disappearance. With exactly the right kind of disgust and impatience, she listens to Piet talk about how he loved a girl and how the girl broke his heart. Piet says they had sex, and it's a breathless moment because we know that for a virgin, that kind of admission carries with it the weight of cathedral bells. But the investigator is unfazed and Piet seems disappointed. A Young Man with High Potential is carefully-observed and, at times, queasily unwatchable. The picture has a little of Nacho Cerda's Aftermath in it, right there in the middle. It leaves a lingering aftertaste, too, along with the opportunity for more of this conversation about how the Internet has weaponized loneliness and elevated the pathetic into the position of the bully pulpit. Public figures have begun to leave social-media platforms because of the intense, pathological violence threatened against them. The 'net has given voice to the margins, allowed them to feel powerful. For young men with high potential, forever unrealized, nothing could be more dangerous.