Embers (2015)

Embers 2015
Embers 2015

Movie Details

EMBERS (2015)
Director-: Claire Carré
Cast-Jason RitterIva Gocheva Greta Fernández
Movie type- Sci-fi/Mystery
Release date- 18 September
IMDB Rating-5.4
Languages- English, Tagalog, and Filipino
Duration-1 Hour 53 Minutes



Imagine that you are lying on the bed next to your loved one. You will soon turn off the light, but first you will reply to the last e-mails, read a chapter of the book and finish the film you have started. When it gets dark, you will make yourself comfortable and fall asleep cuddling like you usually do, trying to forget about the responsibilities that the next day will bring. Eventually you will fall asleep, and when you wake up, everything you knew will no longer exist. No, it’s not like everything will disappear. This will take place without any sirens, without explosions and without shots. When you open your eyes, you will simply realize that you don’t know who you are, or who the person lying next to you is, or who all those messages on the laptop are for, or what that book on the nearby table is about, even though you read it yesterday. You are in a strange room with strange things. The person next to you covers themselves with a piece of bedclothes. Oh, so she feels alien too. You don’t know each other, even though you have spent many years together, you feel subcutaneously that something is wrong, but you don’t know what.

A virus has infected you, and no one remembers where it came from, no one knows how to create an antidote.

If you have ever met someone suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or someone with another type of memory disorder, you can imagine how traumatic this experience must be. The knowledge acquired over the years gradually fades away, facial features and voices of the family become unrecognizable, the names of friends lose their former resonance, familiar melodies, images and smells from childhood fade and settle somewhere deep in the subconscious. Man irrevocably loses a part of his own self, his personality, he becomes an unfortunate creature trying at all costs to regain this stolen value, to keep alive the extinguishing flame that glows on the last fuel.

Embers tells the story of such people, in a world ten years after a global neurological epidemic, as a result of which all infected people suffer from retrograde and progressive amnesia. No one calls them disabled, but that’s probably because they are the majority. They, in turn, are usually unaware of their own weakness and live “here and now”, seizing every coming day, every moment, experiencing the same thing all over again.

In this short film (86 minutes), five threads of different characters intertwine quite efficiently. In the first one, a Man (Jason Ritter) and a Woman (Iva Gocheva) live similarly to the thought experiment described above – they wake up on a mattress next to each other, in a room of a ruined building. They don’t know each other, they don’t know their names, only the identical ribbons on their wrists suggest that they have something in common. In the second, a mute boy (Silvan Friedman) wanders a desolate world, looking for someone to take care of him. Chaos (played by Karl Glusman, known from Love Gaspar Noé), in turn, wanders around the former town, destroying on a whim everything that stands in his way, not hesitating to kill for a can of food. The next two plots belong to an aging professor (Tucker Smallwood) who spends his days reading books that he soon forgets about, and to Miranda (Greta Fernández) and her father (Roberto Cots). The last couple are the only people in the film who have not yet lost their memories, living in a sterile underground shelter. As director Claire Carré said when promoting the film: “My memories are precious to me. I love how they are created and recreated, in a way that is completely unique to each of our minds, like a fingerprint. Pieced together, memories allow us to tell the story of who we are – ourselves and others. But if who I am is built on who I was, who would I be without my memories? Without stories about yourself? Is there a core of identity deeper than the sum of our experiences? I created Embers to find answers to these questions.

In the world presented by Carré, people are like crying children who just need to be given a rattling toy to immediately forget about their misfortunes. In one scene, a mute boy witnesses the death of a loved one, but it only takes a while for him to completely erase the event from his memory. Similarly, at one point Chaos meets a girl and rushes at her to rape her, but stops when he notices a white horse walking among the ruins around the corner. The hero, fascinated by the new object, forgets about his recent desire. Likewise the girl, who will probably live something completely different after a few moments. So there is a pinch of optimism in all this – how many times have we suffered from failures and dreamed of erasing or undoing certain events, especially misfortunes in love and work? On the other hand, if our memories were erased, would we still be the same people? Don’t they shape us, teach us and make us better and more persistent?

The creators of the film Embers , almost metaphorically, constantly ask the audience questions: ” Can you be a good or bad person by nature?” If we took away the childhood traumas that led him down the wrong track, would he be a better person? In fact, they ask directly: “What would you do in a future where no one remembers anything, where there are no penalties, no sense of guilt and no social consequences?” . Psychology and film, the creation of which was preceded by thorough scientific research, answer clearly – we can take away the memory of ourselves and everyone around us, but we will always remain at least a shadow from the past, that unextinguished flame ( embers ) that drives our actions.

One of the characters in the film (Matthew Goulish) suffers from a special type of amnesia, because unlike other people who forget everything after going to sleep or after stressful experiences – he remembers for only a few dozen seconds and then immediately restarts. In a scene at the beginning of the film, he meets a mute boy (or has he known him for a long time but doesn’t know it?) and gives him his wristwatch. After a while, he starts walking, repeating the same words all the time, and when he sees the boy again, surprised that he is wearing a watch that is too big, he takes it from him and puts it on his hand. This character was probably inspired by the musicologist Clive Wearing, who, as a result of meningitis, lost the ability to form long-term memories and his memory only lasts for a minute. The only thing he remembers is his love for his wife Deborah. So there are things that cannot be forgotten if they have well-trodden neural pathways, such as the hackneyed (but true) example of riding a bike.

In less than a year since its international premiere, Embers has won over a dozen awards at festivals and many positive reviews around the world (and their number is constantly growing).

Eric Kohn of IndieWire called the film “the best science fiction discovery [of 2015] of the year”, comparing it with last year’s films such as Ex Machina and The Martian . Frank Scheck of the Hollywood Reporter described the work as “a stylish debut” and Don Simpson of Smells Like Teen Spirit as “one of the most unforgettable independent science fiction films of the last decade.”

The script was written by Claire Carré with her partner Charles Spano. Todd Antonio Somodevilla was responsible for the image, and together with the director, he decided to divide the visual language of the film into two worlds: the external (without memory) and the underground (uninfected). In the first one, we can notice that the camera always follows the characters hand-held, is unpredictable and subjective, the image is blurry, the space is dirty, and the light comes from natural sources; in the second it is the opposite – the camera is stable, the point of view is often symmetrical, the places are clean and minimalist.

There were also several dozen people from Poland in the crew (while shooting scenes in our country). Filming took place in Gary, Indiana, in upstate New York, and at the Łódź heat and power plant and Międzyrzecki Rejon Umociony, underground fortifications from World War II consisting of a total of approximately thirty kilometers of tunnels. The set design was handled by Chelsea Oliver and Wojciech Żogała, who worked on such films as Edi , Z Odzysku , Gods and most recently True Crimes . The executive producer was Kacper Sawicki, founder of Papaya Films.

When, while writing a series about Polish science fiction cinema, I asked him how this Polish-American cooperation came about, he replied: “Like most things that happened in my life and in my company, we made this film a bit by accident. Namely, for some time Papaya has been operating in advertising in London and film in New York, but New York was dormant because we were looking for ideas. I spend a lot of time there, about two months a year, and I already have, so to speak, the seeds of friendship with independent filmmakers there. And one time, when I was out to dinner with friends, the cinematographer Todd Antonio, with whom I had previously worked in advertising, told me the script, or rather what the film Embers was about, which he was supposed to make. And the moment I heard this one sentence: “It’s a film about people who live in a world after an epidemic that causes double amnesia,” I said: “Give me that director.” The next day I met the director and screenwriter, my future co-producers, and we started talking. What was unattractive to me at the beginning was the slogan that it was science fiction. Because I associated science fiction with these commercial films, which are approached a bit like a product followed by large studios and toys around. I remember we were sitting in a cafe in Manhattan and I said something like this to our director, Claire Carré: For me, science fiction is not about robots, for me science fiction is a “What if?” question relating to the near or distant future. She replied, “That’s exactly what the movie is about.”

Embers is therefore spiritually much closer to Kubrick’s A Space Odyssey and Tarkovsky’s Stalker than to subsequent Hollywood blockbusters.

It is a niche work, bordering on art-house and slow cinema, but without being forced to do so. It is pure science fiction, although (or maybe because) there are no lasers and star battles in it, but rather questions about human nature. It is worth mentioning that the creators raised part of the money on Kickstarter, and the total budget of the film was less than two hundred thousand dollars, which, at the current exchange rate, gives us less than a million zlotys – an amount several times lower than the average cost of producing a contemporary Polish film. Let us remember, however, that Piotr Szulkin, the master of Polish science fiction, shot his best works for the same amount. The creators of Embers aren’t pretending to be anything and, frankly, they don’t have to. Their film features virtually no computer special effects or views generated on green screens. Claire Carré decided to treat low financial resources as an advantage and create a world after the epidemic, using natural, abandoned locations. It shows us an alternative reality and allows us to observe (or rather spy?) its inhabitants, as if we were not watching a fictional film, but a documentary record of the future that could occur if humanity took one irresponsible step too many.

This film is also a kind of warning, at times bordering on a spiritual parable. On the one hand, the heroes are made of flesh and blood, on the other hand, they represent certain archetypes such as love, family, morality, teaching and freedom – like Jung’s primal instincts, which are inherent in our human nature, embedded in the genotype, regardless of whether we remember them, or not. It might seem – how can you identify with characters who are always the same, because due to the inability to remember, they are stuck at a certain point and cannot develop? They can, of course, learn to swim or fall in love with someone, because, as the filmmakers admit, the virus only damages the area called the hippocampus, so it does not affect procedural memory (responsible for physical skills) and emotional memory. But after waking up, the characters have no idea how they can do something or why they have special feelings for someone.

There is no extensive plot or well-thought-out intrigue in this film, for the simple reason that none of the characters would be interested in it.

The frequent comparisons in the foreign press of Embers and Memento are therefore completely inaccurate, and the only thing that connects them is the topic of amnesia itself. Christopher Nolan’s work is a dynamic crime story about a man suffering from short-term memory loss, hunting down his wife’s murderers. To remember every important aspect of the investigation, the hero carefully takes notes and photos. In Claire Carré’s film, the characters are too sluggish (and too mortal) for that. Well, except for the professor who is trying to find an antidote and studies the books every day, hoping that he will find something groundbreaking. However, it is a hopeless and depressing fight – all it takes is a new day for the old man to forget everything and look at the book with surprise when he sees his photo on the back of the cover.

Embers is no different in many respects from other road and post-apocalyptic films. The people there are like lost moths looking for glimmers of light in the darkness. They are thrown into an unfriendly world, they wake up almost with their hands in the potty, not knowing the answers to the simplest questions. The goal is therefore, during breaks from looking for shelter and food, to find the meaning of existence and the opportunity to contact other people. I agree with IndieWire’s Erik Kohn here, who stated that: “Just as Ex Machina previously explored the mysteries of artificial intelligence, Embers turns everything upside down.”

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