The uncanny tips into the unnerving – and then the downright disturbing – with alacrity in Sandra Wollner’s tale of futuristic family trauma. The Trouble With Being Born, in the case of protagonist Ellie, is a never-ending cycle. Ellie, who appears to be about thirteen, and through whom the audience sees all action, is an android who lives in isolation with her father/programmer. She has no memories of her own except what ‘Papa’ gives her. Through references to an absent (dead? killed?) ‘Mama’ and some shocking attire for the girl-robot, it immediately becomes clear that ‘Papa’ is programming a sexual partner. 

Director Wollner implemented immense safeguards and precautions both for the screen and on the set, well publicised before the film’s 2020 Berlinale premiere. Lena Watson is a pseudonym for the underage actress, her face is covered in smooth plastic prosthetics, and suggestive scenes are (very well concealed) CGI. Wollner’s concern for her cast makes her uncompromising vision of disquiet palatable, if still a startlingly uncomfortable watch. She evolves the questions of Ellie’s origins through the clicks and whirs of her machinery, her digitally altered voice questioning the world until confronted with a vision that stirs her memory. Here, her dead-eyed silence speaks eerie volumes.

The second half flips into a new family, new traumas, and a new programmed identity for Ellie. Here, the film somewhat loses the laser-focus on the obscene that makes the first half so terrifyingly compelling. While tying back to the premise, the script never gives us enough about the world to connect the burgeoning android rebellion to the humans who have left their selfish marks. 

The Trouble With Being Born raises questions it possibly cannot answer. Its audacious premise, clearly handled with thought and care, raises cycles of ruin that continue beyond the film’s 90 minutes.



CAST: Lena Watson, Dominik Warta, Ingrid Burkhard, Jana McKinnon 

DIRECTOR: Sandra Wollner

WRITERS: Sandra Wollner, Roderick Warich

SYNOPSIS: Ellie, a humanoid android, and ‘Papa’ live an isolated existence