“With Love and a Major Organ” Explores the Horror of Emotional Vulnerability [BUFF Review]

Living an emotional life is not for the faint of heart. Cheekily referred to as feeling your feelings, the act of letting down your emotional walls and fully experiencing life’s ups and downs can be a challenging experience capable of bringing even the strongest of us to our knees. Especially when we’ve gotten so good at numbing ourselves to the pain of being alive. We spend hours scrolling our phones, drowning our sorrows in mindless TV and retreating from the world in apps designed to outsource our decisions. Kim Albright’s film With Love and a Major Organ takes the idea of apathetic detachment to the extreme by presenting a world in which it’s not only possible to avoid sentiment, we can literally cut out our hearts and exist in a fog of pure practicality. In this shocking world where feelings are taboo and algorithms rule, braving an authentic life of emotional truth feels like a shocking act of rebellion. 

Anabel (Anna Maguire) is an artist in a futuristic world stripped of color. Organic friendships are essentially a thing of the past and relationships are governed by a rigid system that removes the possibility of pain or disappointment. Of course this distance also drains away the joy of being alive. From six-bite meal bars to sterile art, every aspect of daily life has been outsourced to an app or algorithm and humans glide through their days on a cloud of numb serenity. Anabel’s rejection of this lifestyle surprises those around her who have willingly abandoned their humanity to avoid feeling negative emotions. Her natural messiness is an affront to her best friend Casey (Donna Benedicto) who finds security in the emotional distance the popular Life Zapp app provides. When Anabel’s mother dies, the grief-stricken artist decides it’s time to join this unfeeling majority. She rips out her heart and passes it to a reserved man named George (Hamza Haq) who begins to feel ungovernable joy for the first time in his life. But how will Anabel fare in her new joyless existence? How long can she hide in numbness before the pain of her loss becomes too great to bear?

With Love and a Major Organ is an interesting thought experiment requiring major suspension of disbelief. The opening scene sees Anabel watch a weeping man rip out his heart, discard it, then casually walk back in the direction of his house. Her best friend is engaged to a woman we never meet and has dreamed of the day she would choose the app that will plan her perfect wedding. Emotions do exist in this sterile world, but they are dealt with quickly and discreetly. Watercooler shows feature gruesome executions allowing cathartic release, and Casey frequents the Little House of Big Feelings, a warehouse providing contained spaces where patrons can briefly experience joy, sorrow, terror, and introspection before exiting the building and carrying on with their day. Told with a straight face, this ostensible utopia foresees a world we may be inching closer to every day.  

Albright mirrors the film’s outsized concept with a serene world of beigey neutrals. An art exhibit featuring basic black and white designs sets a perfect tone for the contrast between Anabel’s world and the rest of society. This abstract artist uses her body to paint and frequently comes to work with colorful hues unknowingly smeared across her chin. No one blinks at the news that a man has excised his heart and the rest of the world carries on as if it’s a jacket that has been left on a bus. Albright hides the gruesome details and presents these disturbing concepts symbolically with beams of violet light used to show moments of emotional vulnerability. Julia Lederer’s imaginative script also dabbles in an exploration of generational trauma with George’s mother Mona (Veena Sood). This single mother has spent her life shielding her son from emotional pain and he has been severely stunted as a result of her understandable protection. 

This abstract story is bolstered by compelling performances all around. Maguire breaks then repairs our heart as the alternately messy and rigid Anabel, fully committing to both ends of the emotional spectrum. She opens the film by describing her mother’s heart as a ball of yarn caught on people all over town, foreshadowing the story’s structure. We bounce around between endearing characters each struggling to feel in a world built to numb. It’s a poignant character study and a reminder to us all that emotions – negative and positive – are fundamental to living a full life. We may be able to avoid them for a while, but we cannot survive without a feeling and bleeding heart. 

Jenn Adams is a writer, podcaster, and film critic from Nashville, TN. Find her social media nonsense @jennferatu.