'The Trouble With Being Born' is in cinemas 3 December.
Trigger warning: The below article covers themes of incest and child sexual abuse.
In the world of film (and creative arts more broadly), the line between creative expression and what’s morally and socially acceptable can be blurry.
While it’s important to protect the right to highlight topics that make us uncomfortable or question our humanity, it's equally important to consider the impact of a story and its ability to help or harm.
Sandra Wollner’s 'The Trouble With Being Born' is a film that delicately balances pushing ethical boundaries while exploring a range of highly disturbing, albeit relevant topics of our time.
Set somewhere in a future Austria, 'The Trouble With Being Born' starts off in a birch forest, typical of those found in Northern Europe.
As the images and sounds start to come into focus, so too does main character Ellie – a pre-pubescent girl. Ellie is dressed in a bright yellow swimsuit and sports a brunette, lob-style haircut. While her skin is pale and face unusually blank, she appears otherwise like any other 'regular' ten-year-old girl.
Suntanning by the pool is Ellie's 'Papa' with whom she shares an evidently warm, loving relationship, as they laugh and joke together in the summer sun.
These idyllic, carefree scenes play out from the start of the film, however, despite the seemingly innocent exchanges between father and daughter, one can’t help but feel a sense of dread that something sinister is looming.
The relationship between Ellie and her Papa is not all what it seems – Ellie is in fact an android replica of the real-life Ellie who went missing some years ago.
As the story continues to unfold, the audience is presented with a number of extremely confronting scenes which touch on incest, paedophilia and the potential dark side of our future with AI.
From there, a sudden turn of events thrusts Ellie into the hands of a new family, where she is left with an elderly lady to act as her new companion.
The lady does not take to Ellie, however, and the android is reprogrammed to resemble the lady’s younger brother who died 60 years ago.
In both environments, Ellie's presence and purpose lends itself to the larger issues of loneliness, lack of human connection and an increasing trend for people to turn towards technology over real-life interactions.
As a mother of four young girls, this movie was quite hard to watch and made me question the filmmaking process and how it was possible to create such disturbing material without emotionally impacting the young actress, Lena Watson (her stage name).
In an interview earlier this year with America’s filmcomment.com, Wollner explained – given the sensitive and dark nature of the subject matter – a number of measures were put in place to ensure Watson was not negatively impacted by the experience.
For example, her identity was protected by wearing a mask throughout the film and she was never nude or exposed to anyone who was naked.
Sandra Wollner also said the story was explained to Watson in age-appropriate terms and that the young actress's family was always present on set.
Nevertheless, questions regarding duty of care and whether or not the film encouraged or ‘normalised sexual interest in children’ meant it was pulled from the Melbourne International Film Festival earlier this year and has attracted controversy in other parts of the world as well.
Finally, while the film doesn't specifically discuss the sex doll trade, it does bring to mind the ethical arguments around whether or not there should be a legal market for such products, particularly those representing children.
Given that these dolls are essentially catering to paedophiles, some people believe selling these dolls will encourage more predatory behaviour, where others argue it will help reduce the risk of child sexual abuse as it will replace the urge to prey on real-life children.
Whatever the case may be, one cannot deny this is a powerful film which will have your skin crawling and stomach churning at every bend.
'The Trouble With Being Born' is in cinemas from 3 December.