Kim Albright’s With Love and A Major Organ is a Delightful Indie Which Has its Heart in the Right place

Kim Albright’s surreal alternate universe in With Love and A Major Organ is uncannily close to our own – so much so that the parallels it draws with modern loneliness leave an ache as one watches it unfold. Albright and writer Julia Lederer (based on her play of the same name) don’t even bother with much in the way of future technology they just amplify the way current technology is used by people to avoid making their own decisions and investigating their own feelings too deeply. The protagonist, Anabel (Anna Maguire) is an artist working at a Virtual Insurance Company, one which covers the loss of data, “Where the loss may be virtual, but the feelings are real.” She avoids the ubiquitous LifeZapp app, which is planning people’s lives, wants to fall in love the old-fashioned way, and is perhaps too attached to her emotions in a space where others are avoiding theirs.

After a beguiling opening where Anabel relates how her mother felt her heart was like twine that constantly got knotted on to other people, we see that in Anabel’s universe hearts are objects that can be removed. A man stands on a cliff and throws his heart into the ocean. Anabel’s childhood cottage that she shared with her mother is threaded with red wool. The titles sequence is a montage of ordinary objects that bleed – hearts that have been removed. When Anabel tried to rest her head on her mother’s chest all she heard was emptiness.

Anabel’s need to feel connected comes up in her therapy session with Doctor Lee (Lynda Boyd) who declares Anabel’s heart “toxic” and probably a result of some genetic disorder passed on by her mother. Anabel just really wants to discuss why her mother avoids her now. The therapist tells her that her time is up and thanks to LifeZapp there is no longer any work for therapists as she changes into a fast-food company uniform, a career that is guaranteed (for now) to not become irrelevant.

Anabel’s one firm human connection is her childhood friend, Casey (Donna Benedicto). Casey, too, lives a life scheduled by LifeZapp. The app reminds her when to check in with her fiancée Lisa, tells her what she wants and needs most. When Anabel suggests that she might know Casey better than an app, Casey laughs sceptically.

Perhaps romance is coming to Anabel after all when she has a meet-cute with an awkward man in a park. George (Hamza Haq) is the kind of person who only reads yesterday’s newspaper so he can be sure that they have survived whatever apocalyptic event is predicted the day before. Anabel avoids all bad news. He works at a job which is literally ‘Pointing, clicking, and scrolling’ and does something that Anabel finds unexpected. He tells her he likes her very colourful jacket and then gives her a version of the newspaper with all the bad news taken out. Anabel falls head over heels and records strange poetry for her new beau. She is devastated when after leaving a tape for him on the park bench where they met his response is simply “I can’t.”

After further disappointments such as being turned down for an art show (her art is too bright and bohemian for common monochromatic tastes), a social misstep at Casey’s pre-wedding party that could mean that Casey’s ‘social rating’ will drop, and her mother constantly avoiding her, Anabel removes her heart, a lantern filled with violet light and delivers it in a cold box to George. George removes his own heart, one made of paper, and starts using Anabel’s heart and for the first time in his life actually feels. He knows it’s wrong and his repressed and often furious mother, Mona (Veena Sood) tells him he can’t steal a heart – to do so would mean that Anabel would eventually die as her chest caves in. Nonetheless, George becomes so enamoured with emotion that he absconds with Anabel’s heart and takes a road trip to discover life.

Meanwhile, Anabel begins to live life like so many others do. She’s suddenly pragmatic to the point of coldness. She begins to succeed in her job by making call quotas, she begins to let go of all the things that made her ‘Anabel’ including photographs, her painting supplies, and even after her mother dies, she has nothing to give – she just goes through the paperwork and does the requisite socially expected things like having a funeral for her.

Mona isn’t at all pleased with the idea that George is out there in the world with a new heart that isn’t his, so she kidnaps Anabel to force her to tell him where he is heading. It’s a new dynamic where Mona explains that she’s done everything she can to protect George because he was the result of the combination of two broken hearted people. His paper heart wasn’t even the heart he was born with – for ‘the best’ she had the original heart removed.

Albright and Lederer’s overt quirkiness could derail the film if it wasn’t so, well, heartfelt. There is a line that is always trod in absurdist works that means the audience may feel they are being too oblique. The opposite is true for With Love and A Major Organ – there is nothing oblique about it. It is so close to the way many people already live just with a few surrealistic flourishes. The humour is clever (there’s a great joke about a computerised version of Emma Thompson’s voice being a calming app), and at times cuts to the quick. Anabel is a constant scribbler and journal writer – again something that is a now a huge industry. There are companies dedicated to pop psychology such as The Small House of Big Feels where Anabel’s nemesis Sandra (Arghavan Jenati) works. The radio broadcasts songs to make people stop feeling in between ads for LifeZapp. The contemporary world is overwhelming, and it is little wonder that people want respite – but what is respite?

Anabel was perhaps too intent on her own emotions to notice those of others, something that is also present in contemporary society. She missed social clues such as Casey gently trying to tell her that she doesn’t want Anabel to do certain things for her wedding. She’s not a perfect heroine. George was content with his bland existence knowing nothing outside of it, but when housing Anabel’s heart he realises that the world is both wonderful and cruel.

There is a deeply tender touch to With Love and A Major Organ which not only speaks to loneliness, fear of being ruled by emotions, and the cost of closing those emotions down. Mona suggests that perhaps Anabel’s mother was just trying to do what she felt best not just for herself but also her daughter. If she hadn’t removed her heart would she have tried to control Anabel’s life as Mona has inevitably done with George’s life. Emotions are messy and no-one really knows what to do with them or where to put them, but in a world where they are located in an object the question arises that if they are too much would you take them away? This is perhaps a reference to an increasingly medicated society – although neither Albright nor Lederer are suggesting that mental health issues are not the territory of professional medicine, but they are wary of pop psychology. Added to the wonderful script, excellent performances (Maguire, Sood, and Haq) is the gorgeousness of the visual world of the film. There is a vividness to the scenes that involve heightened emotion that contrasts to the sad quotidian world where people have numbed themselves.

With Love and A Major Organ is a sparkling debut for Albright and a wonderful piece of independent cinema that keeps its world alive and relevant. It speaks to what life means and how difficult it can be to navigate, especially if you are sensitive. One can predict a vivid future for Kim Albright because her heart is most certainly in the right place.

Director: Kim Albright

Cast: Anna Maguire, Hamza Haq, Veena Sood

Writer: Julia Lederer

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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