Connected is a portrait of a woman grappling with aging, self-perception, and transformation in a technologically optimized world. Jackie (Pamela Anderson) is a burnt-out AuraCycle instructor in the midst of a midlife crisis. She's obsessed with self-improvement podcasts (voiced by Jane Fonda), and she is soon drawn to an advanced yet enigmatic wellness spa that promises to enhance her mind, body and soul. Guided by her effortless and nubile mentor, Luna (Dree Hemingway), Jackie will give up anything to feel “connected" -- to herself, to the future, and to a precarious sense of perfection.
Connected began when I met Pamela Anderson for the first time. After having explored issues of body modification and transformation in some of my photography and film projects, I was ready to create a narrative film which investigated these topics in a deeper, more grounded way. I knew that I wanted the project to surround an iconic sex symbol in the tradition of Marilyn Monroe and Bridgette Bardot. I'm fascinated by the level of mystery and mythology that surrounds these women. Their allure rests mainly on the surface, and that leaves me to wonder what lies beneath.
Pamela Anderson is the sex symbol of my generation. Even before adolescence I remember posters of her plastered on bedroom walls. Men and women alike can instantly recall the visual of her running down the beach in a red bathing suit, and she’s still one of the most iconic emblems of America around the world. During my first meeting with Pamela, I was surprised to discover how thoughtful and open she is about her life and legacy. What is the evolution of a performer who has made her mark on the world with her body, something that inevitably depreciates with age? I explained that I wanted to ask these questions in the film, and to bring forth a vulnerable performance that blurs the lines between reality and fiction. Instead of focusing on the obvious relationship to sex, I wanted to focus on introspection and transformation. To some degree, we all are trading on idealized versions of ourselves. This has never been more clear with the advent of social media, where our public identities are entirely self-constructed and instantly surveyed, ranked, immortalized or trolled.
For me Pamela is also an archetype of California culture, which is at once obsessed with the shallowness of youth and beauty, as well as the more existential search for self-help, wellness, and rehabilitation. Both of these polarities lead to a certain kind of alienation that I wanted to explore: the alienation and emptiness of beauty and objectification of oneself, and the alienation of continuously searching for something deeper and more authentic. I don't think it’s a coincidence that these two seemingly opposed obsessions coexist in places like Malibu. I believe, in fact, that they’re related to a singular kind of searching, which I wanted viewers to palpably feel and empathize with when watching the film. Intimacy and finding strength in being vulnerable is a big part of Pamela’s public story, as well as the community-driven, wellness culture element of Connected.
Working with Pamela has been an incredible journey. She truly understands the process and precariousness of self-invention and reinvention. After all, she began her life as a flat-chested brunette from Canada and has evolved into a blond bombshell actress and animal rights activist - epitomizing the ideals of the "California Dream." As an actress, Pamela is extraordinary to collaborate with because she works hard to understand the vision, and then fully commits to realizing it. She was also comfortable with my introducing elements of documentary into the film, blurring the line between her character and her own experiences with aging and soul searching. This took an enormous amount of bravery on her part, and helping her draw out this strength was extremely enlightening for me as well.
It was an absolute honor to work with Jane Fonda as the voice of Jackie’s wellness guru, which was also meant to parallel her public story, as well as Dree Hemingway as Luna. Growing up in Malibu, Dree acutely understood her character and brought so much personal experience and depth to the performance. There still remains this idea that intelligence and beauty are two separate qualities that represent two very different kinds of people. I find this to be not only anti-female, but also wholly untrue. For me each of the women in this film actively demonstrates that these traits most certainly do coexist. I hope the film furthers the conversation about our relationship to beauty, aging and technology, as well as each and every individual’s potential for reinvention and transformation.
- Luke Gilford