With relationships today as easy as a swipe right on Tinder, technology defines both the way we meet people and the way people can deceive us. This is the idea behind “The Heart Machine,” NYU alumnus Zachary Wigon’s debut film.
“The Heart Machine” focuses on Cody (John Gallagher Jr.) and Virginia (Kate Lyn Sheil) — a couple that meet online and begin a romantic long-distance relationship. Cody begins to suspect Virginia may not be living in Berlin as she claims to be and may even live in the same city as him.
Wigon, the writer and director, said the idea of filming a story centered on technology and Internet romance came when he was involved in a long-distance relationship that was carried out mostly through Skype conversations.
“After I got out of school, I was in a relationship with this woman who was doing her entire junior year abroad,” Wigon said. “It worked really well — we got along, we were in love and everything was going well. And then, when her junior year ended, she came back to New York and it was like, ‘Oh my god, this is terrible. This is a really bad fit.’”
Wigon’s personal experience led him to think about the ideas surrounding the film. Using his life as inspiration, he was able to write complex characters.
“You’d think that it would be harder to make long-distance work and easier to make it work in person, so why would it be the other way around?” Wigon said. “So that led me to think about the manner which digital technology provides a sort of social buffer between two people. It allows for you to maintain a level of safety — a cocoon for emotional exposure that you can’t afford to indulge in when you’re in-person with someone else.”
With the emergence of dating applications such as Tinder, Wigon questions the effect these apps have on relationships.
“When you do online dating, say Tinder for example, there’s something very commodity-like about being on it,” Wigon said. “I think you lose a lot of what makes people human. What makes people human is to deal with the messiness and the complications and contradictions that are held within a person’s identity. These apps eliminate that, and I wonder if they train us to think about relationships in an unhelpful manner.”
In “The Heart Machine,” Wigon highlights the reliance on technology, focusing on character psychology through Cody, and the reasons why people use technology to stalk people.
“There was something in Cody that I was interested in exploring as the movie goes on — the obsessive tendencies and behaviors that come out when you start Internet stalking someone,” Wigon said. “It’s funny because everyone uses that term like it’s no big deal, but people sort of forget that stalking someone is really intense.”
Wigon wanted to call attention to the biases of technologies that most people accept and take for granted.
“Because we are so immersed in how these technologies work and function on a day-to-day basis, we’re lacking in the perspective to be able to see their contradictions and their flaws,” Wigon said. “There’s no more kind of intimate relationship than a romantic relationship, and what better way to highlight how technology affects how we socialize through a romance?”
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Oct. 23 print edition. Email Stephanie Cheng at [email protected]