‘Listening’ Writer/Director Khalil Sullins Explores Discovery Of Telepathy

Photo Credit: Photo credit: Young Medium
September 9th, 2015

Khalil Sullins is hardly the first writer/director to explore the worst case scenario of a technological breakthrough, as he does in Listening. However, Sullins’ vision explores the subject of telepathy, and not in the way that X-Men’s Charles Xavier uses it. In fact, in the years he spent researching the subject and writing his film, the premise of humans learning to read each other’s minds – and of powerful forces using it for free-will threatening purposes – is getting closer to science fact than fiction.

Sullins expanded on this while talking to TMN’s Robert Dougherty on Sept. 3, a week before Listening comes to select theaters and VOD on Sept. 11. It is the culmination of a process that started in 2010, when he first wanted to explore the ways people connect – or don’t – with each other in this technological age.

“All this technology is great, but is it making us better communicators on a human level? On a personal level? And so I wanted to get into the implications of what inventing telepathy would mean on an interpersonal level, but then also along a societal level, a governmental level, a global level.”

That examination comes through two best friends and grad students, played by Thomas Stroppel and Artie Ahr, and a new female partner played by Amber Marie Bollinger. Stroppel’s David and Ahr’s Ryan start off with trying to have computers read their minds, yet find greater success in reading each other’s minds. But when the married David shares more than thoughts when reading the mind of Bollinger’s Jordan, and when Ryan goes to extreme lengths to get the project sold, everything comes crashing down – especially when the CIA sweeps in to bail them out with the ultimate devil’s bargain.

Young Medium

When Sullins first had this idea for a movie several years ago, he wasn’t aware that nanotube electrodes could be used to further telepathy experiments in real life. Nevertheless, he later learned just how ahead of the curve he was.

“When I was writing the script in 2010, as far as I knew, those didn’t exist out there in the world. I was sort of combining what was going on with brain interfaces and what was going on with nanotechnology. Scientists were probably working on it back then, I just wasn’t aware of it.”

“But a few months after we finished production, these nanotube electrodes have actually been invented, they actually exist out there in the real world. There are scientists trying to get them to work in human brains and animal brains, and try to create waves to experience each other’s thoughts.”

“We kind of joked that the movie is no longer sci-fi thriller – in some ways it’s more historical drama.”

Science-fiction is crowded with films that warn of the dangers of artificial intelligence and technology – usually requiring wars with killer machines in dystopian futures. However, Sullins views Listening and its take on a possible future in the vein of Darren Aronofsky’s Pi, Shane Carruth’s Primer, George Lucas’s THX-1138, Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca and Christopher Nolan’s The Following – other debut films for prominent directors who took real world looks at fantastical premises.

“I like the idea of taking this fantastic superpower like telepathy, like you see with Charles Xavier in X-Men, and like the idea of how Nolan did the Batman films, looking at how they might actually exist in the real world. Taking something fantastic and making it real and believable.”

To many, the most believable way to imagine a breakthrough like telepathy is its ultimate abuse, either by individuals, powerful forces or all of the above – and Listening has such abuses in spades. Perhaps if this power ever gets discovered in real life, it will be by someone better equipped than a struggling student with marital troubles, a poorer student more willing to take shortcuts, and people in the government who don’t want to ultimately weaponize and control others with it.

Yet thanks to real life cynicism and so many bleak futuristic movies, not many may have their hopes up for such a positive outcome – but Sullins himself isn’t so bleak.

“I’m not anti-technology at all. Some people might see the film and think I’m anti-technology or anti-science or anti-progress. But I think there is a sub-theme in the movie of having good intentions and good actions. I mean, it’s not enough to have good intentions and do the wrong thing, or be doing the right thing but for the wrong reason.”

“Generally in the world we live in right now, most things are money driven. A lot of advancements are taking place because people want to make a profit off it, and that’s a bit scary. I think whatever the answers are, they lie somewhere in the realm of mindfulness.”

“If we are careful about how we use this technology and why we’re using it, then of course it can be used for good.”

Those who still want to see how not to use such power for the greatest good – at first, anyway – can start Listening on Sept. 11.

Young Medium