Embers

Lonely amidst the rubble.

Lonely amidst the rubble.

(2015) Science Fiction (Papaya) Jason Ritter, Iva Gocheva, Greta Fernández, Tucker Smallwood, Karl Glusman, Roberto Cots, Dominique Swain, Matthew Goulish, Silvan Friedman, Derrick Aguis, Brandon Bowens, Ryan Czerwonko, Nathaniel Andrew, Kirsten Kairos, Arianna Messner, Janice Culver. Directed by Claire Carré

Florida Film Festival 2016

It is said that we are really only the sum total of our memories, and there is some validity to that. But what happens when we take memory away? Are we still the same people we were with them?

In the not too distant future, a neurological epidemic has damaged the hippocampus of most human brains, leaving the survivors unable to form new memories. Everyone is forced to live in the present other than the privileged few like Miranda (Fernández) and her father (Cots) who live in a high-tech bunker with no other human contact.

Everyone else survives in a gutted wasteland, the crumbling ruins of a society no longer equipped to maintain itself. Wandering through are a girl (Gocheva) and a guy (Ritter) who are in love, but wake up every morning not knowing who the other one is, forced to fall in love all over again. There’s also a teacher (Smallwood) who is trying to find a cure, using logic and memory aids to help him remember what he is trying to do – and what he needs to do to survive. There’s also an angry, destructive teen (Glusman) who brings chaos wherever he goes. Finally there is a young boy (Friedman) who is trying to find someone to bond with, although he isn’t all that sure why.

For first time director Carré, this might have been a daunting prospect but she wisely tackled it in phases. I can’t say that it results in a cohesive whole – some of the stories simply do not mix with the others – but the results are impressive nonetheless. In fact, most of the characters don’t interact with others for the most part and the stories remain separate, rather than an anthology in which all of the threads end up coming together. Rather here, the threads are unraveling. Good science fiction isn’t necessarily about the technology (although the bunker sequences show some off nicely) but more about exploring who we are as individuals or a society. Our connections with other humans are largely based on memory; take that away and the anarchy depicted here is almost certain to result.

There is a tone here that can be likened to a malaise, although there are moments of action (particularly when Chaos is around) and conflict (between father and daughter). There is also some heartrending emotional sequences and even occasional bits of humor. Cinematographer Todd Antonio Somodevilla utilizes a lot of blues and grays in his palate, giving the film a feeling of further decay.  It also serves to make the mood a little more depressing and it is already not the most uplifting of films, if that’s what you’re looking for.

The performances here are tight and contained with a cast that is largely unknown (other than Ritter, who bears a resemblance to Ethan Hawke here, even more than to his own famous father). In this situation, even the adults become child-like, exploring the world for the first time. Carré elicits a good deal of pathos, but while there are moments of humor, there aren’t enough of them to give the movie the variety of tone it desperately needs.

This is more a movie for intellectual stimulation than emotional, which isn’t in itself a bad thing but sometimes the viewer needs a little of both. In some ways, the movie is terrifying – I can’t imagine anything worse than losing my memories and in the process, losing my self – and in some ways, it really does ask us to define who we are without the marker posts of our memory. I can’t complain about that to be fair – I do like to be challenged at the movies from time to time, and this movie certainly does that. All in all, this is a terrific debut from a promising talent.

REASONS TO GO: Fascinating concept. Excellent set design.
REASONS TO STAY: Far from uplifting.
FAMILY VALUES: Some sexuality, rape, violence and brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While the events of the film theoretically occur in the same place, the movie was shot in three separate locations – Gary, Indiana, Lodz, Poland and upstate New York – in three separate sections, which were then interwoven during editing.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/29/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 71% positive reviews. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Blindness
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Newman

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