Surveillance and Technology in ‘Harvest’

Harvest is an eerie documentary that examines just how much access mobile technology has to our daily lives.

The documentary follows a woman named Jenni as she goes about her life in rural Minnesota–her actions are framed by a voiceover that remarks on who she is and what she does. As Jenni drives her son the dispassionate voiceover says “I’ve been with her a while”–as the film progresses, the viewer begins to understand just what this means. While waiting for her kids at gymnastics, Jenni plays on her phone and the voice remarks that it doesn’t know what people did to kill time before cell phones; it lists out all the items she habitually checks and rechecks. As the film progresses, the voiceover becomes more unsettling, as the viewer tries to put together who has so much intimate knowledge of Jenni’s whereabouts and activities. The real question they should be asking is not who but what.

The most prominent element of this gripping documentary is the voiceover. The viewer spends the entire film unraveling just how this seemingly omniscient presence fits into Jenni’s otherwise ordinary life. The voiceover’s initial statement–“I’ve been with her a while”–leads the viewer to believe the voice belongs to a boyfriend or husband. However, expectations change when the voiceover mentions that her husband texted–the audience now thinks the voice belongs to someone she is having an affair with. It becomes increasingly clear that the voiceover is watching Jenni’s every move, learning her “patterns” and stating “you can learn a lot about someone” from this–the audience shifts again, thinking that perhaps Jenni is being stalked. Even small details mentioned in passing like “I have no idea why she uses that alarm tone” evoke suspicion as the audience begins to question how the voiceover can know all that it knows about Jenni. The final reveal comes with the line “Hey Jenni, I’m almost out of juice.” In understanding who the voiceover belongs to–a device that has been constant throughout the film–the audience also understands the point of Harvest. The film seeks to warn of the unseen dangers of the devices that we assume are only additive to our existence.

Harvest is a fascinating examination of technology as a source of good and bad. On the one hand, it shows Skype being used to allow a father to see an ultrasound of his child as its gender is revealed from afar–the phone serves as a source of connection and enables a moment that otherwise could not have happened. While at gymnastics Jenni’s phone also serves as a source of entertainment and productivity, both positive features. However, the film does not shy away from the more sinister aspects that modern technologies pose, for example using the metaphor of Battleship to explain how technology surveils people–“I never miss….longitude, latitude.” There is extreme menace invoked as these voiceovers are paired with shots of Jenni and her children–the phone always knows where they are.

Harvest compellingly seeks to open the viewer’s eyes to our dependence on technology–the voiceover almost dares Jenni to not “plug me back in.” Rather than condemn our dependence, Harvest takes a different tact, instead seeking to breed awareness on the kinds of data modern devices are collecting and selling to third parties. It compellingly shows that we are not just the user–we are being used.

Samantha Bloom

Samantha is a graduate from Stanford University with a B.A. in English with an emphasis in creative writing. Her previous writing projects have included a satirical Silicon Valley musical, a short film that moves the story of Jekyll and Hyde onto social media, a short film about female embodiment in the modern age, and short stories galore. She’s an obsessive fan girl with an affinity for 80s pop, science fiction, and quirky historical facts. She hopes to be a writer for TV and/or film one day.

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