Minor Premise


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Minor Premise
"What marks it out is Sridharan's mastery of an incredibly difficult acting task." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia

Whatever one's field, if one is working right at the edge of one's capacity, the pressure can be intense. In the arts and sciences especially, there is an acute awareness of mortality, of the frailties of the human body, constantly weighing against the possibility of a real breakthrough. There is never enough time. The mind has limits; it can only process so much information at once. What if one were under this kind of pressure and working in neuroscience? Might it not be tempting to expand one's processing power, to try - however experimentally - to boost one's intelligence?

This is what Ethan (Sathya Sridharan) does, and it goes horribly wrong, fracturing his consciousness into ten separate pieces. This experience, however, could still enable crucial progress in his work - if only he can piece himself back together before all those separate pieces burn out.

Screening at Fantasia 2020, Eric Schultz's high concept thriller mostly plays out as a two-hander, but with Sridharan playing ten parts. Each version controls Ethan's body for six minutes at a time. He explains to colleague and sometime lover Alli (Paton Ashbrook) that it's a bit like having disassociated personalities but they're all still him, just different aspects of his emotional being, each, accordingly, with its own priorities. Some are capable of contributing to the work that needs to be done to resolve the situation, provided that he can leave them messages that won't be erased in the meantime. Others are destructive or wholly focused elsewhere. Worryingly, as they use hidden cameras to observe what each one is doing, they come to suspect that at least one may be working against them.

Despite its stylish science fiction premise, most of this film ultimately revolves around traditional thriller elements. What marks it out is Sridharan's mastery of an incredibly difficult acting task. in some ways it's a bit like watching an audition tape with the unseen director saying things like "Can you make this one a bit angrier, please?" but what really impresses is the subtlety with which he carries it off, making each version of Ethan distinct without turning them into caricatures and without us losing the sense of them as parts of the same person.

Thanks to Sridharan's work, it's possible to like some of the versions and not others, calling into question the way we build relationships with whole people. Alli, who has had issues with aspects of Ethan's behaviour for some time, takes it as an opportunity to point out some of what she feels is wrong with him but also has to face the fact that each of the more difficult versions is someone whose presence within him she was prepared to overlook until it came to the forefront.

There's also a good deal here about academia and the additional pressures it piles onto some of its brightest stars, as well as an acknowledgement of the dangers of obsession in academic work (difficult to avoid in the circumstances) and on the personality types best suited to it. Parts of Ethan recognise that Alli has been held back by a sexist culture yet he, like his colleagues, has become self-centred and possessive in relation to his work. Amongst other things, this has brought him into conflict with previously supportive colleague Malcolm (Twin Peaks' Dana Ashbrook, cast against type and acquitting himself well), who is the third main player in this intimate drama.

With so many themes and ideas to juggle, the film itself becomes a little obsessive at times, and it isn't always the most engaging experience. Nevertheless, there's a lot to admire about it, and in a world where producers all too often seem committed to reducing intelligence, its unabashed intellectualism makes a refreshing change.

Reviewed on: 30 Aug 2020
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Minor Premise packshot
Attempting to surpass his father's legacy, a reclusive neuroscientist becomes entangled in his own experiment, pitting ten fragments of his consciousness against each other.

Director: Eric Schultz

Writer: Justin Moretto, Eric Schultz

Starring: Sathya Sridharan, Paton Ashbrook, Purva Bedi, Nikolas Kontomanolis

Year: 2020

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: US


Fantasia 2020

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