How we know what we know has always been an area of exploration that finds small audience interest in the art-house film scene. Pictures like 2004’s ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND kinda/sorta tinkered with memory and memory loss, but I was largely turned off my its endless character quirks and curiously unaligned narrative focus. 1990’s TOTAL RECALL with Arnold Schwarzenegger took the idea of implanting memories and stuck in it a big budget picture that probably worked best though it really glossed over the more cerebral elements in favor of box office success. Heading back into the 80’s, there were some features more commercial in nature – 1983’s BRAINSTORM and 1984’s DREAMSCAPE – but they too were somewhat forgettable in that they tried to capitalize more on a capitalist or exploitative perspective too all of it.
For my tastes, VANISHING WAVES resembles in many ways 2013’s UPSTREAM COLOR, though it comes at similar subject matter from an entirely different point-of-view: it injects our narrator into another person’s head, putting him up close and personal in a way that inevitably threatens both their sanity.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and character. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Lukas (played by Marius Jampolskis) is a neuroscience researcher who agrees to have his mind linked to that of a comatose auto-accident survivor named Aurora (a weirdly incandescent Jurga Jutaite). At first, their psychic meetings involve little more than an exchange of curious sights and sounds, but, eventually, Lukas finds himself drawn into her world as a participant. As he’s drawn closer and closer to her, their encounters slowly evolve from primal, sexual experiences into a full-blown discussion of sensual delights (pleasure, then pain, then memories). It isn’t long before Lukas finds himself drawn – in the material world – toward seeking out and attempting to care for (in subtle ways) Aurora’s comatose body.
Therein lies our narrator’s central conflict: he’s growing more and more captivated by this woman, her life, and her memories. Science – in its purest form – requires that the observer create no attachment to his or her subjects as that’ll directly skewer the experiment’s results. This forces Lukas to withhold the truth behind these experiences, and thus the entire procedure is jeopardized.
VANISHING WAVES is a smart involvement for the audience, and, as such, it’s none to be taken lightly. It’s a slow and measured presentation that requires patience on the part of the viewer because answers aren’t readily available, and Lukas’s revelations take time to grow from the simplistic to those with greater complications and awareness. The initial mystery he’s presented, of course, is understanding the female mind he’s trapped inside; and there’s some clever photography and cinematography that hints at how this is accomplished in his role as psychic observer. It’s when he’s asked by Aurora to begin administering pain and suffering that he fully comprehends just how far over the threshold he’s crossed. This posts his most fundamental dilemma: does he want to ever go back?
Writer/director Kristina Buozyte stages these character discoveries in sequences some might be quick to dismiss as little more than ‘artistic expression,’ but, once it’s clear how strongly her characters are linked, the stakes are raised and WAVES becomes a vastly more successful storytelling vehicle. This takes time, as Buozyte goes to great lengths to establish that both Lukas and Aurora are finding exactly what they want in life in their disturbing ‘unreality’ – he finds he can fulfill real human needs while she gets to experience unbridled desire once more. Sadly, the conclusion ends up being entirely predictable … but, boy, it’s quite the journey before the destination lets us down.
VANISHING WAVES (2012) is produced by Acajou Films and Tremora. DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled through Artsploitation Films. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is a Lithuanian-spoken release with English subtitles, and there are some sequences of the film spoken entirely in English (which makes for some curious sequences of subtitles popping in and out distractingly). As for the technical specifications, wow! The film’s sound and visuals are increasingly used to enhance the sensual experience that so much of WAVES relies on in its first half; it diminishes in the latter, but there are cue sequences (clues) sprinkled throughout. As for the special features, Artsploitation has done an exceptional job with this release: it’s a two-disc production including director Kristina Buozyte’s first feature film (THE COLLECTRESS), a Cineurope interview with her, the original motion picture soundtrack, and a ‘making of’ short. Additionally, the packaging includes an impressive 12-page collector’s booklet featuring a ‘conversation’ with Buozyte and a brief interview exchange with Ms. Jutaite. Nice digs, if you can get ‘em.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. In some odd ways, I’m reminded of UPSTREAM COLOR (a vastly superior work from earlier this year) and even some cerebral sci-fi of the late 1960’s and early 70’s. The chief complaint I’d have critically with VANISHING WAVES is that it embraces an almost passionless narrative for far too much of the film, embracing its hard science angle almost until the final third of the picture. Presenting so many images with emotional detachment puts the viewer in the role of deciphering too much of the story, though it’s possible if you’re watching really, really close to make a best educated guess as what the meaning of the pre-credits sequence truly is (and you’d probably be right). Once it becomes clear, then all of the players deliver an all-too-predictable and all-too-convenient denouement for its forty minutes so deeply invested in transcending borders. Still, it’s a smart sci-fi flick – one that’ll probably inspire others to try more of the same – and, for that, I’m very thankful.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Artsploitation Films provided me with a DVD copy of VANISHING WAVES by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.