1 – an expression of real or pretended doubt or uncertainty
2 – a logical impasse or contradiction
Time manipulation in film is nothing new as the fascination with changing outcomes is the foundation of many people’s misery. “What ifs” cloud judgement and reason, the inability to let go of what-was and make peace with what-is driving them further away from the present. In cinema, time distortion and manipulation has been depicted in recent films like dramadies Palm Springs (2020) and The Map of Tiny Perfect Things (2021), horror films like Koko-di Koko-da (2020) and The Long Walk (2022), or science fiction films like Time Lapse (2014) and Predestination (2014). With so many stories utilizing some form of loop or physical temporal anomaly, crafting a story within this narrative device requires a unique approach in order for the film to grasp hold. For his latest project, Aporia, having its world premiere at Fantasia International Film Festival 2023, writer/director Jared Moshé (The Ballad of Lefty Brown) shifts the focus from the wonder of time manipulation to the interpersonal dynamics that push people to quest for such an unnatural power and the responsibility born from the fallout of its use. Though the narrative choices may not surprise, the execution of the narrative and the powerhouse performances will leave the audience crumbling in its wake.
It’s been eight months since a drunk driver destroyed Sophie’s (Judy Greer) life by taking her husband, Mal (Edi Gathegi), from her and their daughter Riley (Faithe Herman). Not only has it up-ended their daughter’s interest in all the things she once loved, but it’s made it harder for Sophie to balance the work she does to keep a roof over their heads and be a good mom. One day, Mal’s best friend, Jabir (Payman Maadi), reveals to Sophie that the two had been working on a project together, a time manipulation device, and he thinks he can use it to bring Mal back. The catch? To change Mal’s fate, they must decide to change someone else’s and it’s a decision whose rippling effects these grief-stricken individuals can’t begin to fathom.
With a 104-minute runtime, there’s a certain expectation that Moshé will use the first act to introduce us to Sophie and Mal before making his death the pivotal event that gives the film its push. Not only does Moshé defy this, he does this by using memory-as-flashbacks to illustrate the differences between what-was-then and what-is now. The choice to do this surprises as one would expect happy faces to greet them, to ease them into the story, before doing battle against nature; yet, by opting to illustrate the gut-wrenching wake created by the absence of Mal, the audience gets to understand the significance of the loss and how it’s wrecked this family. For the audience, skipping over the happy period and jumping straight into mourning, even nearly a year later, demonstrates just how wounded the characters are, how much society expects people to just get back to normal, and how desperate they (specifically Sophie) are to get back what was lost. Moshé, also, deftly uses this as an easy way to convey the closeness between Sophie and Jabir, two lost souls without Mal, making his suggestion to her, his enticement of altering the past all the more alluring. Who wouldn’t want to save their loved one from a preventable death?
This question is what drives the film as the impetus for the creation of the machine is explored, as well as its use. Thankfully, Moshé makes clearly definable rules for the science so that even if one doesn’t understand the theorems explained or espoused, there’s a simple way for the audience to understand how the time manipulation works and who it works on. This here is the second shift in expectation as the film gives way, not to loops, not to selfish mismanagement, or any other typical trope from a time-centric film, but to an exploration of the ways in which even small changes have enormous outcomes. Unlike the also excellent Riders of Justice (2020), which outright explores Chaos Theory in its non-scientific/time manipulation film, Aporia uses it without dialogue-based exploration; rather, it shows the impacts and, from there, drama and tension are formed. See, we can, as humans, accept that horrible things can happen and when given access to a tool that could rectify that, the temptation to use it is enormous. But then how does one reconcile the result of our own interference into the natural state of things and how do we live with ourselves as we possess the knowledge that it’s not Chaos Theory if we ourselves are the hand that guides the touch of fate?
For all the ideas Moshé’s script presents, it never loses the love at its beating center. Sure, it’s a story about loss and the ways in which grief causes us to figure out ways to bend the laws of nature to our will, but it’s never preachy or villainous, never rotten or depreciative of the moments that happen right now, that fill the quiet of our lives with resonance of those no longer with us. Aporia is, after all, a love story, a tale of two lovers ripped apart and the lengths one would go to have the other back. But it’s not just about romantic love, but that of friends and family, of recognizing the value that one life has on another, what it gives, what it takes, and what it inspires in others. As scene partners, Greer (Halloween), Gathegi (The Harder They Fall), and Maadi (A Separation) are incredible, conveying the kind of faithfulness that all friends aspire to have, never once offering a false note in any aspect of their performance. Unsurprisingly, it’s Greer who holds the film down. Gathegi and Maadi are excellent in their supporting roles, each given a moment to shine, but it’s Greer who the audience latches onto, who can see themselves in, in all the rage, all the guilt, all the isolation, but also all the joy, the hopefulness, and the desire to make things right. In a story filled with chaos, Greer provides the anchor and the guiding light to make it through.
Now, each film someone watches is going to hit differently each time they watch. The moments preceding it being infinitely different than the next time. Also the fact that a second watch comes with different expectations than a first. Because of this, a viewer engages with the material differently, taking away something else that they missed or being able to zero in on an aspect they loved and want to give more attention to. I may not watch this film ever again, not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because it taps into the worst fear I have: that my wife will be taken from me and our boys unexpectedly. She gives them so much that I cannot, she gives to me so much that I cannot create for myself. In seeing how Sophie’s life changes, I couldn’t help but visualize myself in that same situation and I felt my heart break just a bit. Even as Moshé’s script goes to a place of conclusion, a finality that makes all the preceding effort worth the journey, there remained a lingering shroud that was hard to shake until I could embrace my wife, feel her solid under my fingertips, breathe her in, and sense the beating of her heart. In that moment, my false grief abated and my own aporia lifted, even if for just a moment.
Screening during Fantasia International Film Festival 2023.
In select theaters August 11th, 2023.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.