Fingernails takes place in a world where couples can scientifically test their compatibility. At the cost of a fingernail, you can receive a definitive verdict on whether you and your partner are meant to be together Writing in The Guardian, Wendy Ide criticises the film for failing to answer “the key question of why people feel so obliged to submit to the test in the first place.” This wasn’t a question that really bothered me while I was watching the film, but perhaps that’s just because I’ve recently been reading Neil Postman. Just like us, the characters in Fingernails are living in a technopoly, a society that treats technology as the ultimate source of authority. The tenets of a technopoly include the belief that:
technical calculation is in all respects superior to human judgment; that in fact human judgment cannot be trusted, because it is plagued by laxity, ambiguity, and unnecessary complexity; that subjectivity is an obstacle to clear thinking; that what cannot be measured either does not exist or is of no value; and that the affairs of citizens are best guided and conducted by experts.
Postman sharply criticises our fetishisation of expertise, and lacerates the very concept of an expert in “child-rearing and lovemaking and friend-making”. Fingernails shares this scepticism towards expertise: Amir is regarded by his colleagues as a maverick genius in making couples fall more deeply in love, his area of speciality, but his strategies amount to nothing more than feeble reenactments of rom-com tropes.
The broader question the film asks is whether love is an example of declarative or procedural knowledge. The results of the fingernail test represent declarative knowledge: a piece of objective information, a fact about the world that is not going to change. Jeremy Allen White’s Ryan takes his relationship with Anna (played be Jessie Buckley) for granted, because he knows that they are in love. Procedural knowledge, on the other hand, is the knowledge of how to do something. Despite her confidence in the test, Anna recognises that love is a process — she wants to know how to love, how to maintain a relationship that endures through the active and ongoing efforts of both partners. Perhaps there needs to be some degree of uncertainty — some room for faith — in order for that process to happen.
The high-concept relationship drama is subgenre I love. As a cinematic experience, Fingernails lacks the verve or coherence of an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or The Lobster, but it left with a lot to think about all the same.