Director: Charlie McDowell
Starring:Jason Segel, Rooney Mara, Robert Redford, Jesse Plemons. USA. 1h 41m
Boy meets girl on a ferry months after a world shattering invention has been made. A reserved and often recluse scientist Thomas Harbor (Redford) calmly sits down to tell a interviewer about his new discovery; with it, he’s proven, without a doubt, there is life after death. Instantly one of the crew members shoots themselves. The world has a record number of suicides as people are desperately trying to pass on to the other side, there are public counters that are constantly ringing up the number of dead, in the meantime, the boy and girl are journeying to meet, Harbor (Redford) the boys father and girl saviour? it’s supposed to be romantic but they animosity and angst coming from the girl makes the scene rather awkward.
Harbour is running secluded haven for failed suicides, giving them encouragement and safe place to discuss their lives, in the confines of the cultish retreat he’s working on new discoveries including a machine that records the afterlife, but what new mysteries that arise from the machine are being largely ignored by the(mad) scientist who’s just desperate to reach out to his late wife. The acolytes wear matching jumpsuits and have fierce systems that they live and think by. the boy, Will (Segal) tried to connect with his father, and dope smoking brother, but he’s on a very different wavelength and isn’t in love with the experiment as much as his family are but he’s encourage to get with the program, everything is okay… just don’t think about it too much. The girl, Isla (Mara) become more distant and fits into the cult lifestyle while trying to find her own answers to life, death and the universe.
While his LoFi SciFi idea is riveting, it does take an ice age for the pace to eventually speed up, and the film is heavily loaded at the back end. Generally that’s not a huge problem but I feel it doesn’t do it’s best to explain the new findings. The emphasis isn’t on the original discovery, that’s not even featured, the film centres on why this discovery came about and it’s all about Harbour’s need to connect with his dead wife, on one fated day she committed suicide and in his attempts to reach out to her, he causes the suicides of millions of people, the hangups and issues are swept under the carpet, we just have to assume that everything is brilliant and to release and go with the flow. As a thinking audience I would have so many questions about life after the invention.
For a large majority of the film we spend so much time reliving old memories to piece together what the new machines recordings are all about, real events of are they somehow imagined? to get to the bottom of the conundrum everyone’s backstory is detailed and the film doesn’t make any progression it just relives moment after moment until they all start to feed back into “now”.
Charlie McDowell has done a masterful job at creating a fitting mood and atmosphere for a difficult and very unusual subject, it’s moody and brooding but not beyond hope. It’s not easy to broach things like life after death, suicide and losing loved ones but it’s all in this alluring film and with ease it gets the viewer past the grief and puzzling over many other things beyond that. Much like any Lo Fi Sci Fi film there’s a breakthrough which is picked apart leaving a puzzle. the psychological confusion and boundaries are broken down with all the fractured identities that float around in a world that is beyond anything we would ever feel comfortable in.
R – Primer (2004)
L – Lofi Scifi
5s: Robert Redford