The troubled heroine of Do Naeri’s sci-fi psychodrama Trans (트랜스) finds herself quite literally “stuck in a deep loop” while attempting to transcend herself and escape her teenage angst. Playing with new religion imagery, Do’s elliptical drama sends the young woman on a quest for self-apotheosis through physical transformation, a literal obliteration of the self in order to be reborn as something more than human, yet internally conflicted in the costs and implications of such a “rebirth” even while her consciousness seemingly fractures under the weight of its demands.
Then again, perhaps all of this is just fantasy returning us repeatedly to the opening scenes in which high schooler Minyoung is awoken from her reverie by a woman’s scream that might in some sense be her own. A classmate’s body has been spotted draped over a tree, his face and torso marked with what seem to be electrical burns. According to the police, Minyoung was the last person to be in contact with Taeyong which in itself seems odd as we’re immediately shown flashbacks of him bullying her because of her bulimia, attempting to shove junk food into her face. On one such occasion she’s rescued by fellow student Itae, wearing a mask and firing some sort of laser gun. Itae later takes her to his secret lab where he researches the concept of transhumanism believing that the next step in human evolution lies in hacking the brain, enhancing human physicality with technological augmentation such as the chip he has implanted on his chest apparently given to him to “cure” his OCD.
Taeyong’s quasi-fascist ramblings take on the language of new religion, talking of electrical “baptism”, death and resurrection, eventually directing a mystical prayer to the sky as if requesting divine blessing for his transcendence of the human form. Such language may be perfectly tailored to Minyoung whose only other interaction we see is with a dubious online church in which she questions her mentor on the nature of evil, asking why God could not have just made humanity “perfect” to begin with only for her mentor to suggest that evil is a choice that proves free will ensuring that humans are not just mindless robots following divine orders. Mindless robots is however what Taeyong believes humanity to be, his quest for transcendence apparently also one of revolution hoping to obliterate humanity as it is once and for all. He may in some sense reflect Minyoung’s alienation, a desire for revenge against a society by which she feels rejected, while fellow classmate Nochul perhaps reflects her concurrent anxiety.
Yet there is something dangerous in Itae’s insistence that Minyoung is merely “stuck in a loop” and that certain behaviours or aspects of personality regarded as “disorders” are all the fault of faulty wiring and can simply be “fixed” by rebooting the system through electronic shock without ever considering the reasons those feelings or behaviours may have come to exist. He prays on Minyoung’s desire for control and dangles the promise of empowerment while merely using her in his plan to bring about the destruction of humanity while implying she may have already entered a state of “trans” which is why her world keeps repeating itself with details slightly altered until finally reaching the source of her trauma and uncovering the “truth” of her reality as defined by her own consciousness.
This may all indeed be in her head to one extent or another as she looks for a way to transcend herself, her sense of alienation, dysphoria with her surroundings, and spiritual despair led astray by some worryingly fascististic philosophy advanced by a teenage mad scientist hellbent on the destruction of “low class robots” and the creation of a new superman through engineered evolution apparently using little more than a MacBook Air and a series of TV screens, his chief piece of equipment a modified motorcycle helmet. Careering through transhumanism to teleportation, invisibility, parallel universes, and time travel there is much that makes little literal sense as Minyoung constructs and deconstructs identities while repeatedly remaking her world if not quite to her liking then at least to her satisfaction only perhaps to wish she could return to a state of ignorance, human once again.
Trailer (English subtitles)