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Possible Worlds (2000)

by on 2013/01/30

Possible Worlds (2000)

“There’s a light that flashes occasionally, but we don’t know what it means.”

* * * *

Despite a few too many stretches of profound nebulousness, Possible Worlds is ultimately powerful, even brain-breaking. (Pun fully intended for those who have seen it.)

A police procedural intercut with romantic flashbacks, we follow at least two different threads, in the present and, possibly, the past.

Police detectives Berkley (Sean McCann of Naked Lunch) and Williams (Rick Miller of Odd Job Jack) investigate the death of businessman George Barber (Tom McCamus of The Sweet Hereafter). As they follow up on leads, and consider the likelihood of a serial killer, we flip back and forth with the victim’s point of view, the events leading up to his death, I first assumed.

We see flashes, apparently from his past, little bits of his life. We are shown a job interview, Barber’s encounters with Joyce (Tilda Swinton of Constantine), scenes from a cafeteria, a bar, a party, and a beach. Odd little inconsistencies are gradually introduced. She changes in appearance, she morphs from scientist to stockbroker, occasionally not recognizing him.

For his part, Barber manifests his own unique oddities: he demonstrates rare problem solving abilities, appears to read minds, seems to have incredible knowledge. Might these qualities explain why he is murdered?

We won’t necessarily get all the answers we seek. There is a resolution whose level of satisfaction may depend on the viewer. Prominent symbols suggest how elemental and grandiose it all is, but don’t provide definitive solutions: imagery involving parallel lines and (literally) tons of water.

Edit transitions maintain the sense of connection and fluidity, with vertiginous shifts in perspective. Waves melt into windows, flashbulbs dissolve into lightning, as well as the common technique of cutting in the shade of a foreground figure.

For all its stylistic Sturm und Drang, the production is rarely obtrusive, allowing the audience to struggle instead through the puzzle of Barber’s existence…

…with one significant exception: Swinton’s accent. The end credits show she had dialect coaches. Despite them, her voice was distracting. As we’ve seen, she’s a fine actress. Why not allow her to speak normally? How likely are the inhabitants of her character’s hometown, Novar — presumably Novar, Ontario — to criticize her misrepresenting their speech? Surely there could be Scottish women in the Parry Sound region, perhaps (forgive me) in Swindon?

Then again, who can tell? Maybe she’s meant to come across as deliberately unreal. Although we do get an answer of sorts, by and large, we are kept in the dark. Is the story one of jumping in time, of alternate realities? Is he omnipotent, omniscient, a con artist, or deluded? Could she actually be manipulating him in her chameleonic way? We even get the odd hint of aliens and UFOs.

Somehow, against all odds, it’s neither confusing nor absurd. Unfortunately, it’s also not quite fun. I suppose it depends on your definition of having a good time. I personally found Possible Worlds more impressive than involving. Like a moderate take on a David Lynch piece, for better and for worse, never pretty or ugly, but handsome nonetheless . . . a respectable look at an unremarkable man.

* * * *

Rated PG

92 minutes

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