Children of the Crash
From the Series: Ghosts and Numbers
Ghosts and Numbers entered my consciousness when we were both in our infancy. I was a graduate student when Alan Klima screened an early version of his film in Baltimore, and I still remember the sense of premonition and aftermath it conveyed. The film managed to portend a world of wirelessness, cashless-ness, and the erosion of forms of relatedness our former analog selves seemed to take for granted, perhaps in ways that could be regarded as almost quaint today. I remember (who could forget?) a possessed cellphone floating through a Bangkok market on a fishing line. I remember the comic relief of a grinning female interviewer awkwardly asking people what they would do if they won the lottery (answer: “buy a house”). And well over a decade later, I remember how tangible the Asian financial crisis—along with its aftermath of opportunism, political violence, and corruption—felt through the film.
Ghosts and Numbers insists on the ethereal (on the spirit behind the material), but there is also something fiercely concrete about the film. Images move between labyrinths of half-completed construction projects and the “spiraling nightmare of numbers” represented through the lottery and its infrastructure (and more generally in the economy and its unraveling). We are escorted through scenes of the Thai monetary crisis by the ASMR voice of a Cassandra narrator, accompanied by spooky Angelo Badalamenti-style compositions and a mosaic of ornate cinematic images that would make Terrence Malick proud. At a certain point, the voice disappears and we are left to fend for ourselves through a series of captions that become increasingly panicked about the power of Worldmoney and the coming of the Nextworld.
This is what I remember. What I never appreciated was the presence of the “children of the crash” in the film, how ubiquitous and instrumental they are. They almost always inhabit the middle- or background of scenes; images of dead children are held up in protests against brutal post-crash policing; one girl appears again and again in a field, a phantasm straight out of Hideo Nakata’s Ringu (1998); the cries of children haunt a house at night and torment its current occupant, requiring spiritual intervention; people receive advice about lottery numbers from a woman possessed by the squeaky-voiced “Little Prince” who offers prophecy and moral caution in equal measure; and children dance along with a prototype robot from Honda named “Asimo,” celebrating the promise of an automated future. The narratives of adults may drive the film, but these children are the true residents of the world of ghosts and numbers, a world they inhabit (sometimes haunt) and will eventually inherit.