Erasing David

Gordon and the Whale

Gordon and the Whale review by Kate Erbland 13th March 2010

Rating: 8/10

Directors: David Bond, Melinda McDougall (co-director)

In ERASING DAVID, documentary filmmaker David Bond attempts to drop off the grid of surveillance life for thirty days. Increasingly dismayed about the content and quantity of personal information available to the world at large, Bond employs all manner of tactics to learn what is out there about him, how it was acquired, and how to stop it. Well-placed flashbacks show us just how it all snowballed until Bond saw no other way to truly discover the truth than to utterly subvert it.

In the early stages of his quest, Bond hires an amusingly able privacy consultant, who scares Bond by routinely popping up, either physically or via some sort of unexpected bit of technology (hello, baby monitor). What is at first somewhat funny and very interesting steadily builds into the tension that runs through the film. To make matters even worse (and to turn the film into a bit of good, old-fashioned chase story), Bond hires two of Britain’s best private investigators to track him down as he spend his month “on the run.” The PIs on his trail use good old-fashioned detective work to track Bond – they start with just his name, finding themselves rummaging through his trash, and pretending to be him on the phone. But the availability of information on the internet makes their job frighteningly and consistently easy. As if these stakes are not high enough, Bond also has a baby and a pregnant wife at home, who is none to pleased with his idea to strike out on such a ride in the final trimester of her pregnancy.

As David criss-crosses Europe and gets himself into increasingly close scrapes with his would-be captors, ERASING DAVID begins to feel legitimately frightening – both in terms of the physical chase and in terms of how Bond’s information has been so readily accessed. But of course there’s not just the basic issue of people knowing things about you that you may not feel you have expressly allowed them to know, there’s also the deeply unsettling possibility that this information will be misused. And it’s not just in terms of fraudulent activity, as Bond places a huge emphasis on false positives in government-gathered information. He meets young Emma Budd who, upon applying for a job, was the victim of a false positive on her criminal record – a person with the same birthdate and a “similar name” had a shoplifting conviction. She didn’t get the job and her entire life was turned upside down. ERASING DAVID is scary enough for the Bond family, but the consistent theme that this could happen to you runs deeply throughout the proceedings.

In just over a week on the run, Bond turns paranoid. But it’s not so much paranoia when he’s actually being followed, now is it? Paranoia turns to loneliness and wackiness. Bond acutely feels the pain of what he has only temporarily given up in his quest. And it does become a quest. Bond goes to ever-increasing lengths to hide – even setting off for a remote valley in Wales. But the point of this experiment is not for Bond to hide out somewhere remote, he needs to attempt a normal existence. He needs to prove it is indeed possible.

Is it? The film’s basic conceit already makes everything tenuous enough, but the film’s score, packed with building strings and pounding drums and ticking clocks, kicks ERASING DAVID up to a new level. There is something of great importance at stake here – and when it’s all over, it’s not just David who wants to be erased.

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