is an exquisite sci-fi head trip in the vein of Solaris
and 2001: A Space Odyssey
, one which takes pleasure in ideas and exploration rather than cheap thrills. As a bonus, it's also sexier than either of those movies.
Rather than taking viewers to the outer limits, Lithuanian writer/director Kristina Buožytė is concerned solely with the depths of the human mind, and all the confusion, joy, sex and pain competing for space within.
The plot involves a neuron-informatics scientist named Lukas who is chosen to take part in an experiment that involves actually transferring neuron information from a comatose girl to him. In layman's terms, Lukas is more or less entering the mind of a girl in a coma.
Besides some very trippy initial interference, the experiment works better than anyone could have hoped and Lukas finds himself in a surreal world inhabited by a beautiful woman -- no prizes for guessing she's the anonymous comatose patient -- with whom he immediately becomes obsessed. Rather than actually sharing the real results with the team of scientists though, Lukas keeps most of the experience a secret, instead giving the research team just enough vague visual details so that they'll plug him in again. And again.
The film then takes a number of turns as it explores the effect of the project on Lukas' consciousness, his subconsciousness and of course, that of the woman. Soon, Lukas is completely ignoring his girlfriend and sneaking into the hospital to administer drugs that will affect the comatose woman's subconscious experience. This effort, naturally, creates some problematic and unintended side effects.
Lukas' obsession with this alternate reality takes center stage in the story, and while this has been explored in films like Wim Wenders' Until the End of the World
and Kathryn Bigelow's Strange Days
, it's never been as thoughtful or visually striking. Indeed, Buožytė understands that for the film's story to really take life, we must become completely immersed in this new world. The production design, visuals and composition are all inventive and nearly flawless. I especially liked the 60's-inspired neuron transmitter which is attached to Lukas' shaved head each time he plugs in. But really, nearly all of the film's imagery is beautifully composed, unique and haunting.
The other refreshing thing about the film is its willingness to engage with the real complexities of the subconsciousness and all the bizarre desires it manages to conjure up. To this end, the film is incredibly erotic, often in ways we haven't seen before, and almost always with fascinating emotional subtext. And really, it's just nice to see a modern science fiction film that portrays the human mind as more than just multiple layers of gun play and James Bond-style action sequences (ahem, Christopher Nolan).
Ultimately, the film aspires to a romance of sorts, though it's removed from any traditional definition of the genre. Parts of this work incredibly well, especially a bold, revealing one-take conversation between the two characters near the end. At the same time, the film goes down so many rabbit holes, it's sometimes difficult to keep track of the emotional core.
Also, Marius Jampolskis' performance as Lukas may have benefited from a bit more variety. He seems dehumanized almost from the beginning, and while he understandably becomes more and more withdrawn in his real life as the experiment progresses, he's frustratingly blank and morose during his journeys of the mind as well. While it might have disrupted the film's near-hypnotic pace, I think emotional beats of the film may have hit harder if he had allowed himself more range in this alternate world.
Ultimately though, it's a hard film to really critique or judge after just one viewing. That is to say, I'm not actually positive whether the film is more profound and affecting than I realized, or simply more confusing. Whatever the case though, the striking imagery, meticulous pacing and fascinating themes at work here make Vanishing Waves
a must-see for any serious fan of sci-fi, or for that matter, of psychological drama.