Branded: Interesting But Confusing Dystopian Satire

Branded (2012)
Directors: Jamie Bradshaw, Aleksandr Dulerayn

This movie is a confused mess, but an interesting and sometimes thought-provoking mess. I actually wanted to like it, as it had some compelling social themes and displayed some real originality. Unfortunately, the lack of focus and editing waters down any message about the role of brands in the modern world.

The story is set in Moscow and is a Russian-American production, though most of the film is in English. The hero is Misha (Ed Stoppard), a marketing wizard who eventually discovers (in a truly bizarre manner) that brands are not merely a manipulative force in the world, but are living, predatory monsters who literally consume people.

Branded is basically a dystopian sci-fi satire that is sort of an updated Brave New World. The main focus is on fast foods, and how large corporations set out to make it fashionable to be fat. Even though the film definitely contains the element of satire, the mood is too often deadly serious. This is part of the problem, as more humor could have made the bizarreness of it all more palatable.

There are two main problems with Branded. The first is that it has a long middle where it drags. There is an extended period when Misha drops out of the ad game, has a strange vision, performs a Biblical style animal sacrifice and learns the weird truth about brands. Even if we are to accept this at face value, this part of the film dragged on longer than necessary and should have been edited.

The other problem is that the concept of the living brands isn’t really coherent. We never learn how these monstrous creatures were created Was it deliberately done by corporations or did it just happen, the way Godzilla was a byproduct of nuclear radiation? The film never tells us. There also seems to be some confusion about what the real nemesis is here. At one point, Misha helps a company create a vegetarian chain of restaurants to dismantle the evil burgers that are making everyone fat. As if there weren’t enough subplots, people are dying from a mysterious disease that may or may not be Mad Cow Disease. This is another potentially interesting and topical point, but it creates more ambiguity as far as the film’s main plot is concerned. Is the problem with beef and unhealthy food or brands per se? Aside from addressing the problems of fast food, there are also stand-ins for Apple and other popular brands that are not food related. The theme so broad that it’s just too difficult to keep it hanging together.

The romance between Misha and Abby (Leelee Sobieski), the niece of Misha’s boss, is sometimes interesting and provides some relief from the dystopian sociology. Yet this too drags out as the two are constantly coming together and breaking up until the very last scene.

Branded is a movie that deals with some important and serious topics. In many scenes it does so in an intelligent and original manner. Yet it is ultimately too muddled to make the kind of impact it should have made.