The Antenna. 2020.
Directed & Written by Orcun Behram.
Starring Ihsan Önal, Gül Arici, Elif Cakman, Murat Saglam, Enis Yildiz, Eda Özel, & Levent Ünsal.
Not Rated / 115 minutes
Horror / Thriller
The following article contains SPOILERS!
Orcun Behram’s feature film debut The Antenna is the kind of horror film I’d imagine George Orwell would’ve found interesting: at once dystopian and painfully current. Behram depicts a dystopian Turkey where an authoritarian state has enacted strict measures of info communication. Not so different from modern day Turkey over the past decade or more, is it?
Mehmet (Ihsan Önal) is a building landlord for the state. He receives word new technology, a special antenna for 24-hour broadcasts, will be installed. When the installer arrives things get strange, as the man falls off the roof and dies. Soon, Mehmet gets complaints from residents about a black sludge oozing from the drains. It’s actually much, much worse. The sludge is all but seeping from the walls. And it’s beginning to infect the tenants.
The Antenna is an eerie dystopian horror that reflects Turkey’s descent over the past decade(+) into a state of mass surveillance, specifically in regards to the digital landscape. During 2014, Turkey “surpassed the 46 other states in the council of Europe” in regards to “cases involving the violations of the right to freedom of expression” (Surveillance, Secrecy and Self-Censorship 9). Studies have shown part of this authoritarian regime of surveillance leads to self-censorship, an air of paranoia that then ensures people will do the state’s job for them, a kind of preventative censorship. This idea plays out in the film when the black sludge infiltrating Mehmet’s building begins to have a sinister influence on the tenants and turns the place into a Grand Guignol theatre.
Since the mid-2000s Turkey’s leaders have had an authoritarian relationship with the internet. In 2007, YouTube was blocked for several days, again occurring the year after but then lasting two whole years until 2010. Richard Dawkins had his website blocked in Turkey during 2008 due to his supposed defamation of Islamic creationist and cult leader Adnan Oktar. Sevan Nişanyan received a 13-month jail sentence for a blog post in which he defended an awful film, The Innocence of Muslims, on the grounds of freedom of expression. In 2014, Grindr was blocked in Turkey, and the following year an amendment to Internet Security Law gave Turkish cops power to conduct digital surveillance on citizens without a warrant.
Effectively, all this censorship equates to the fact the Turkish government doesn’t want its citizens engaging in any ideology that doesn’t promote an adherence to nationalism and, considering Grindr being censored, hetero norms. The state only wants its ideology getting to citizens. In The Antenna, the dystopian Turkish state depicted acts in the same manner, hoping to mould citizens into a community that will “act as a single body” and uphold “the ideal order.” That’s why, near the end, we start to see faceless people— they are the faceless, identity-less dream citizens of the state, blank automatons who’ll follow the state’s ideology and self-censor themselves before the state ever has to lift a finger.
The Midnight Bulletin makes sure everyone’s getting only the approved info while concealing a darker purpose. The state’s Midnight Bulletin distraction allows the oozing black sludge to infiltrate the everyday lives of the building’s residents. We can look at this as analogous to how certain media sneaks destructive ideologies into seemingly innocuous content. Like Animal Crossing turning capitalism into a bunch of cute animals doing cute things, or Death Wish— both the original and definitely its remake— pushing pro-Second Amendment/capital punishment arguments. The best image of this in Behram’s film comes from the husband/father who eats meat that’s become tainted by the black sludge, driving home how deeply ideology infects us. It gets into our food, our commodities, and, eventually, our bodies, just like the man once the blackened meat spreads the antenna’s ooze into him resulting in terrifying chaos that not only destroys him but threatens to violently destroy his family.
“One also gets used to rotting”
A significant aspect of the film is Mehmet’s role as landlord of a building and an arm of the state, as well as the disillusionment this causes him which propels the film’s most surreal moments. Mehmet embodies an authoritarian state’s expectations of the individual, and the position he winds up in illustrates how the state uses people like him to shoulder the blame. The dystopian state in the film is reflective of how authoritarian parties take no blame for any weakness in their state and pass that onto its citizens. When Mehmet tells someone that there’s something wrong with the building, the man replies: “The building is solid, you are weak.” Translation: the state is strong, only the individual can be weak.
A spooky moment accurately depicts the conformity all but built into the very environment of The Antenna‘s dystopian landscape. Several shadowy faces look out from the apartment block windows. They’re literally identical; the outline of their shadows are indistinguishable from one another. This is a cookie cutter dystopian world in which each apartment and building are the same as the next, to the point all the tenants mirror their urban environment, more architecture than human.
One of the freakier images again shows how people begin to take on qualities of the urban environment, and in turn perpetuate the ideologies built into those environments. Mehmet has a vision where he touches the black ooze and wires connect to his hand. He sees himself with wires all over his head, coming out of his scalp with the rest of his real hair. He’s become not a faceless automatons but a receptor and relay for the state, his entire head— his brain— turned into a switchboard being pumped full of ideology which he then propagates, willingly and inadvertently.Surreal films, more than occasionally, wander into total incomprehensibility. Sometimes that’s fun, other times it’s frustrating. Orcun Behram feels like a director and storyteller who’s been making features already, yet this is his first full-length film. The Antenna uses surrealism to augment its themes, rather than diving into surrealism as an experiment in form or an existential journey. Behram combines surrealism with important social themes, making the unsettling imagery creepy and loaded with symbolism.
The relevance of The Antenna lies in the way the dystopian Turkey of Behram’s creation parallels the actual state of Turkey regarding mass state surveillance. Turkish leaders have used “mass surveillance data to profile individuals for their political and ideological beliefs” (Surveillance, Secrecy and Self-Censorship). Behram’s film presents a vision of the country that substitutes an antenna for computers but the results remain the same. He questions a modern world that thrives on progress and simultaneously suffers from it, as new digital tools offer individuals more freedoms than ever and likewise provide governments with more insidious avenues to suppress and exploit them.
Surveillance, Secrecy and Self-Censorship: New Digital Freedom Challenges in Turkey. Ed. Sarah Clarke, Marian Botsford Fraser, and Ann Harrison. PEN International, 2014.