‘Another Body’ Review: Intriguing Deepfake Porn Doc Is Not as Deep as You’d Think
Deepfake images, made by motion graphic software that seamlessly morphs faces until the average viewer can’t tell who’s real or fake in a video, have the power to change the social and political landscape forever. (In an era when electoral enemies lob “fake news” at each other all day long, this technology will actually be able to manipulate millions soon enough.)
However, deepfakes are rampant now — in pornography. Free porn sites are flooded with videos of adult performers with the faces of celebs, unsurprisingly, but regular people, too. And they did not consent for their visages to be used in sexual scenarios.
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Sophie Compton and Reuben Hamlyn’s intriguing but ultimately slight documentary Another Body follows an outraged college student and her search for justice when she learns her likeness has been stolen for use in deepfake porn. Through interviews, animations and videos the subject shot of herself in real-time as she uncovered this mystery, the filmmakers home in on the emotional upheavals of such a discovery, but never quite dig deep into the gendered reasons why this type of sexualization could hurt someone. For a film about such a critical issue — and there’s no doubt it is one — I was surprised to find myself turned off its inherently prudish pearl-clutching.
That being said, there’s a great twist early on and I’m going to spoil it for you in a few paragraphs, so stop here if you don’t want to know what makes Another Body stand out from your typical moral-panic documentary.
The film opens on Taylor Klein, a young engineering student. Actually, the film opens on Taylor’s childhood videos, a tactic to drive home how horrible it is that this innocent little child will eventually be violated by something as insidious as identity theft for porn (maybe the cinematic equivalent of a male public figure talking about how he has daughters and that’s why he stands up for women’s rights). Taylor waxes rhapsodic about her love of math and science and how she comes from a family of engineers, which influenced her to pursue the field. “Like, I was like stressing out about getting into college when I was 12.” This is, of course, how we know she’s very serious and career-oriented and not the utterly dreadful type to ever flaunt herself for public consumption. Taylor constantly apologizes for using language like “fuck” — as though she needs to publicly distinguish herself from the crude women who do regularly swear.
Through dramatic recreations of instant message chats, we see an acquaintance alert Taylor to the fact that her face (on someone else’s body) has been plastered all over Pornhub — along with her real name, real college location and her supposed desire to meet up with Internet randos. Taylor had noticed something weird was going on weeks before, as strangers had started messaging her on Instagram with provocative come-ons. Naturally, she’s shocked and humiliated when she sees herself essentially doxxed in a way that could invite predators to come seek her, terrified that someone could just show up at her dorm room to assault her. She is also concerned this could ruin her chances of getting a good job after she graduates, which the filmmakers never dive into.
Due to esoteric legal entanglements, there’s not much police can or will do for her because her perpetrator and the hosting websites have not exactly broken any current law. She’s frightened and alone, knowing that if she tells her friends or makes any sort of public fuss, it will only draw more viewers to the deepfakes. She eventually hears through the grapevine that this has also happened to another classmate, Julia, and the two young women team up to figure out who among their mutuals would have the technical skills and motivation to hurt them. Their journey takes them to exactly where you might suspect if you’ve at all been paying attention to popular culture in the last 10 years, but that doesn’t make it a dull one.
Less than a quarter of the way through the hour-and-twenty-minute film, Taylor’s face suddenly mutates, her features transforming multiple times over into different young women as she explains, “So, my name isn’t really Taylor and C-Tech isn’t a real college. All of this footage is of me but the face you’re watching right now isn’t actually my face, it’s an actor’s face deepfaked over mine.” Readers, my jaw dropped.
Staying anonymous is the only way she feels safe to tell her story, and this game the filmmakers play by at first tricking the audience and then having us constantly evaluate the images we see thereafter is a brilliant device to drive home the crisis deepfake technology has wrought. Because aside from observing a couple of weird glitchy angles, there’s no way I would have been able to tell “Taylor” wasn’t Taylor at all.
At the same time, the gimmick almost backfires, because at one point I did briefly question if this story was real at all. (I don’t actually doubt it’s real, but it did, uh, cross my mind that it could be a Go Ask Alice-type of fictionalized rallying cry. I wouldn’t have thought that at all if the directors hadn’t proved how easily they could deceive me with deepfake artistry.)
Another Body works best as a detective story and falters as a sociological study. The film refuses to separate sexuality from nonconsensual sexualization, so it creates a false narrative that Taylor and Julia must be pure and desexualized subjects for us to feel sympathy for them. We watch as they search on a porn site as part of their investigation, performatively decrying even being in this digital space at all, as though afraid we’ll judge them for it. We know nothing about their background or their values, so they become the virtuous “everywomen” the film needs them to be.
At one point, Taylor opens up about her obsessive-compulsive disorder and why that has turned her into a “people pleaser.” I wanted to know whom exactly she worries she’s not pleasing by being the victim of such a violation.