“A Ghost Story”: what to expect during your own “life review” when you pass away

Richard Lowery’s new little “horror” film and Sundance hit, “A Ghost Story”, does indeed provide an interesting theory about the afterlife.  In a sense, heaven is for real, and not just in the Christian sense.

The basic idea here is that C (Casey Affleck, covered in an inexpensive bedsheet as a prop, right out of the morgue) goes through a “life review” (the Monroe Institute talks about this) first, experiencing his widow’s (Rooney Mara) grief as he mopes in their rented house in exurban Dallas.  But, since they weren’t together long enough to have kids, he has to find some other chains of “space-time boxes” to connect his own lifeline to.  These tesseracts are connected to the rural house itself, it’s history (back to the days of the pioneers and Indian attack) to the future, when the house is torn down and replaced by commercial real estate as the Dallas area keeps expanding.  The same fate as the gay club Town DC a year from now.

The film has a bare-bones look in the beginning, shot 1.37:1, to create the feel of old movies (though in color) and enable closeups, At a critical point in the screenplay, twenty minutes into the film, we see the aftermath of C’s fatal car wreck in front of his house (he was T-boned getting out of his driveway, but we don’t see the accident in motion).   But toward the end, as M does his time travel, the visuals get quite impressive.

There are some other social gatherings, as the Hispanic family that rents the house after M leaves, and the kids play with Brio toys – and people try the out-of-tune piano that never leaves the house (right out of Alban Berg’s “Wozzeck”).  Then there is a pot party with some other people, where Prognosticator (Will Oldham) gives a monologue on whether consciousness lives forever through music – using Beethoven’s Ninth as an example.  I thought he could try the completed Bruckner Ninth as an example (Dec 3 posting).

I thought particularly about Casey Affleck’s earlier tragic film “Gerry” (2002) , Gus Van Sant’s film where he and a friend played by Matt Damon face loss in the Mojave Desert.

Also, I remember Peter Straub’s mammoth 70s novel “Ghost Story”, with its long middle section about Anna Mobley, and the character Stringer Dedham, who didn’t die when the “life ran out of him”.  The movie (1981, John Irwin) was underwhelming.

Name: A Ghost Story
Director, writer:  Richard Lowery
Released:  2017
Format:  1.37:1 (old-time aspect for close-ups)
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic Fairfax VA 2017/7/14 late night small audience
Length:  91
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  A24
Link:  official

(Posted: Saturday, July 15, 2017 at 2:30 PM EDT)

“The Discovery”: a mad scientist develops TV to look at the afterlife and finds it a strange loop

The Discovery”, directed by Charlie McDowell, and produced by Endgame and Protagonist,  is Netflix’s proudest release for this spring, a science fiction film about layers of reality that seems inspired a bit by Christopher Nolan’s “Inception”, and some ideas (for the straight world) borrowed from the gay time paradox film “Judas Kiss”.  But it doesn’t have the visual sweep of either of these films.

The Discovery of the mad scientist Thomas Harbor, played by Robert Redford with all of his conservative charisma, is that the Afterlife of people after brain death has been recorded.  (There is some record of this sort of thing like in Eben Alexander’s book “Proof of Heaven”).  In a guarded mansion on Newport Beach, Rhode Island, Harbor carries out his work, with a machine than can render paranormal experiences on a 50s-like black and white TV, shaking, and no Philco Halo Light.

The film opens with a broadcast interview (with Mary Steenburgen), where a production assistant commits suicide on camera.  Pretty soon Thomas’s son Will (Jason Segel) and a soutmate Isla (Rooney Mara, of course) take a ferry to the place, where they are escorted by Will’s long-haired, chain-smoking brother Toby (Jesse Plemons).

In the mansion there is a whole “family” of subjects, in orange uniforms, rather like a cult in a horror film. As the film progresses (the details of the plot, in Wikipedia, are lengthy and somewhat convoluted, as in a Nolan film) bad family secrets crawl out of the metalwork like blobs.  The equipment is 50s stuff, with electrodes and mesh that would threaten a male subject’s chest hair (and there’s plenty of the stringy stuff attached to pates, too).  In time, the controversy seems to be, are the visions just dreams (like “Inception”) or are they really alternative reality paths in parallel universes that your consciousness jumps into when you die.  “The end is only the beginning” and maybe everyone really is a strange loop.

Indeed, the film will take some twists as Will and Isla fall in love, that only quantum paradox keeps from becoming tragic.

I think there are more interesting ideas to try, like merging together into group consciousness, for future redistribution (like in my “Angel’s Brother”).

It’s interesting that Netflix picked this up, because the Sundance film would seem to be capable of attracting a theatrical audience in chains like Landmark or Angelika.

Name:  “The Discovery”
Director, writer:  Charlie McDowell
Released:  2017/3/31
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix Instant Play
Length:  102
Rating:  NA (PG-13)
Companies:  Endgame, Protagonist, Netflix
Link:  Facebook, Netflix (requires logon and subscription)

Picture: Bridge near Newport, my visit, Aug. 2015

(Posted: Saturday, May 13, 2017 at 10:30 PM EDT)

“Assassin’s Creed”, based on the game franchise, seems genre-silly, but poses one interesting question

Assassin’s Creed”, directed by Justin Kurzel, is a genre sci-fi fantasy film based on the video game series, and the filmmaking style is perhaps reminiscent of comic book franchises.

After a prologue set in 1492 Spain, where there is a presentation of the idea that the disbanded Knights Templar was trying to unleash the “Apple of Eden” and end free will for mankind, justifying the need to assassinate its members, the film moves to present day, first in 1986 where Callum Lynch is growing up in Baja California and witnessing family violence, to 2016, where the adult Lynch (Michael Fassbender) is being executed by lethal injection in a grim chamber at the Huntsville, TX penitentiary.

But Lynch goes through an interesting NDE, and wakes up to a new existence in a laboratory in Madrid, run by Abstergo, where he will be fed the memories of his ancestors, and sent back to 1492 to rescue humanity.   The lead scientist is Sophia (Marion Cotillard).  The lab, which picks up Lynch with huge pincers and throws him around in a simulator, is rather hard to describe, and the depiction of 1492 Granada is standard video game stuff, not terribly interesting.  It’s also unclear often whose side the Abstergo minions are on.  The complicated plot (it’s on Wikipedia ) leads to a showdown in London where the Apple is presented and mankind must be saved from being changed into obedient surfs – envisioning a world that crosses between Donald Trump (a convenient coincidence) and Mr. Snow in Hunger Games.  Some autocrats or groups believe that it is their purpose to impose moral on the world (a “final solution”) and remain as combative as necessary to do so.

There’s a good question embedded in the movie:  how could someone experience the memories of another, after some sort of reincarnation?  Is the brain, with the neuronal microtubules  a receptacle for consciousness that already exists?  (link)  If so, is there some link to others through the DNA (through genes) of biological lineage?  That would actually have real significance for “family values”.

Name:  “Assassin’s Creed”
Director, writer:  Justin Kurzel (wr. Michael Leslie, et al)
Released:  2016/12/21
Format:  2.35:1, 3-D
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Common, 2016/12/28, late. small audence
Length:  115
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  20th Century Fox, Regency
Link:  official, game

A comparison could be made to Paolo Barzman’s TV-mini series “The Last Templar”, January 2009 on NBC.  The Templar, of course, appear in Dan Brown’s novels and movies, especially “The Da Vinci Code” (2006).

Wikipedia panorama of Granada, Spain, link.

Wikiepdia picture of Huntsville, TX prison, link.

(Posted: Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016 at 11:30 AM EST)

“Paradox”: a time travel lab and quantum mechanics necessitate identity theft


Name: Paradox
Director, writer: Michael Hurst
Released: 2016
Format: 1.85:1
When and how viewed: Netlix instant, 2016/12/1
Length 89
Rating NA
Companies: XLRator
Link: NA

Paradox” (2016), directed by Michael Hurst, gives me another example of how time travel provides rather pointless opportunities for movie plot manipulation for its own sake.

When a young scientist (Adam Huss) enters a time travel machine (looking rather like Taylor Wilson’s home fusion reactor, or perhaps to a photoflash body cleanser) he moves ahead one hour, to midnight, to learn that most of the lab occupants will killed by an intruder.

What follows is various attempts to evade fate (which you can’t change) with various paradoxes, based on quantum uncertainties (the Schroedinger Cat) which, transposed into this movie, mean that people change identities. There is an African-American invader who seems to want to impersonate a notorious stock trade (maybe to possess “Donovan’s Brain”). But the other two young white men on the set realize that if one becomes the other, the first one has full moral responsibility for the past irrevocable (after all) acts of the other. You can’t wake up as somebody else. The heroine Gale (Zoe Bell) may find that out.

The movie has a rather claustrophobic look, as it is all indoors. There’s not much of a journey.

There’s an allusion to the famous “Five Minutes to Self-Destruct” in “The Andromeda Strain”.

Posted: Friday, Dec. 2, 2016 at 12:15 AM

“The Time Traveler’s Wife”: some silly paradoxes set up a romantic drama


Name: The Time Traveler’s Wife
Director, writer:  Robert Schwentke, Audrey Niffenegger
Released:  2009
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD, 2016/11/21
Length 107
Rating PG-13
Companies: New Line Cinema
Link: FB

The Time Traveler’s Wife” (2009), directed by Robert Schwentke, and based on the novel by Audrey Niffenegger, presents some cute paradoxes in this romantic drama.  But does this really say anything?

Eric Bana plays Henry De Tamle, a librarian in Chicago.  He has a “genetic” disorder that causes him to travel in time unpredictably and return.  He has first learned of his “gift” when he survives an auto accident (caused by an over-height truck hitting an overpass, a real highway safety problem) that kills his mother by temporarily disappearing back in time right before the impact. When he meets his future wife Clare (Rachel McAdams), she tells him that she had met his future self when he was a child.  This sounds like a paradox itself, because “later” he talks to his future self as a boy.

The ensuing love story brings up the question of what would happen to the kids they have.  Would they have the “gift”?  Henry winds up having his tubes tied to avoid the possibility (it leaves you feeling like you were kicked in the nuts, according to a married friend who had it done once) but that doesn’t quite work.

Henry sometimes has to indulge in some “Disturbing Behavior” (1998), like picking locks to burglarize apartments to steal casual clothes, because his travel episodes are in the nude.  And then he can dematerialize, leaving an empty suit. “Sartor Resartus” indeed.

I think there are other variations you can imagine on this theme, like what if a virus caused you to inherit (in an object-oriented sense) someone else’s consciousness, or caused humans to develop a more distributed sense of self like dolphins.  Something like that will happen in my novel “Angel’s Brother”.

To its credit, the script says that on his flashback visits, Henry isn’t allowed to change any outcomes (other than when he escapes the accident).  That would violate the “law of causality” in physics, which is what creates time.

There are other movies for comparison.  One is “The Astronaut’s Wife” (1998, directed by Rand Ravich), with Charlize Theron and Johnny Depp   Something has happened to a male astronaut while in space, which could lead to the wife’s having an extraterrestrial child – although that might just give you a kid who as a teenager becomes another Clark Kent (“Smallville”).  I’d take that deal.

Another distant comparison is “The Astronaut Farmer” (2007, Michael Polish, WB), about what the title says;  compare to “October Sky” (Nov, 4).

Wikipedia attribution link for Chicago picture by Mindfrieze, CCSA 2.0.

(Posted: Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016 at 6:15 PM EST)