Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"The performances are impressive all round." | Photo: Fantasia International Film Festival

Big concept science fiction too often neglects the human side, which is a problem, because by and large it’s humans who determine how science is used. This smart independent feature by Jared Moshé, which screened as part of Fantasia 2023, is all about human experience and the deep needs which drive our engagement with technology, its development and its destructive potential.

At the heart of it is Sophie (Judy Greer), who is at rock bottom when we first encounter her. Six months ago she lost her husband Mal (Edi Gathegi). Her devastated daughter Riley (Faithe Herman) wants nothing to do with her. She’s struggling to cope at work and everyone is running out of sympathy – everyone, that is, except for her friend Jabir (Payman Maadi). He has been there throughout to bail her out of trouble. In the process they have built up the kind of trust which makes it possible for him to take her into his confidence and show her the machine which he and Mal were working on. A cobbled-together tangle of wires and spare parts, it’s not a time machine in the familiar sense. It can only do one thing: speed up abstract particles in one specific location in spacetime. As Sophie isn’t a physicist, Jabir explains it in lay terms: it can fire a bullet into the past.

Would you kill a stranger to save someone you love? Sophie knows that the drunk driver responsible for Mal’s death didn’t intend to kill him, and for a little while she struggles, following him around, trying to persuade herself that he doesn’t deserve to live. In the end, however, she simply sets her moral discomfort aside. Perhaps it helps that she doesn’t fully believe in what Jabir is telling her – not until she goes to pick up Riley from the park and Mal is standing there.

It’s impossible not to tell him, of course. She simply can’t suppress that much emotion – and there’s no real need to, as he helped Jabir to develop the machine. The bulk of the film deals with where the three of them go from there. Jabir, who had a deeply personal reason for working on the machine in the first place, wants to use it to stop terrorists. Sophie is troubled by the moral implications of any further such action, but focuses primarily on trying to assuage her own guilt, seeking some way to help the family of the man she has killed – which proves challenging when, in the process, she learns more about him and is forced to recognise his humanity. Mal, meanwhile, flirts with the idea of publishing a paper on their discovery – which, if you think about it for a couple of seconds, has absolutely terrifying implications.

The science is well worked out insofar as it goes, and kept simple. Moshé’s very grounded approach might remind viewers of Primer, which he has acknowledged as an influence. Everything here is small scale, almost mundane, despite the massive import of the technology. Differences in character perspectives are explained with reference to the observer effect. At the same time, Aporia explores the different ways in which people process grief.

The performances are impressive all round. Gathegi and Greer have a chemistry which makes the depth of their bond believable, even as Mal is distracted by his passion for knowledge. It’s the contrast between Greer and Maadi’s performances which really drives the film, however. Sophie is consumed by her grief; it explodes out of her, infiltrating everything, and viewers carrying grief of their own are likely to be deeply affected by it. Jabir, however, carries an awful burden with a quiet dignity, focused on finding solutions or forms of compensation yet weighed down a little more heavily with every step.

There are no bad guys here, though we might sense their shadows hovering at the story’s edge. Everything is built upon the contradiction of striving to reclaim or preserve life when all that one can do is kill. Beyond that, mistakes are made, and accepting the consequences proves more and more difficult. Each character wrestles in a different way with shifting moral poles. Even without the time element, this would be a multi-dimensional conundrum, and one of the assumptions it challenges is that it is always possible to find a solution.

Reviewed on: 29 Jul 2023
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Since losing her husband, Sophie has struggled to manage grief, a full-time job, and parenting her devastated daughter, but when a former physicist reveals a secret time-bending machine, Sophie will be faced with an impossible choice.

Director: Jared Moshe

Writer: Jared Moshe

Starring: Judy Greer, Edi Gathegi, Payman Maadi, Faithe Herman

Year: 2023

Runtime: 104 minutes

Country: US


Fantasia 2023

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