Embers full movie review - Complex Disguised as Simple
After a global neurological epidemic, those who remain search for meaning and connection in a world without memory.
On its surface, "Embers" is a very simple movie. We have a series of people who have lost their memory to varying degrees. Some can remember for a day, some only minutes. A few seem to be able to push the limits a little bit further. Good science fiction is taking reality as we know it, and pushing the edges out just a bit to what is not yet actual, but possible. And "Embers" succeeds in that endeavor.
Writer-director Claire Carre was fully aware of the importance of keeping the infection idea grounded in reality. "I did a ton of research, looking at different neurological case studies, and specially looking at the lives of people with amnesia? The characters in the film suffer from symptoms similar to the type of brain damage you might get from viral encephalitis." Thus, what we see in "Embers" is entirely possible, as unlikely as it might be that amnesia would occur on a (presumably) global scale.
Whether intentional or not, the film evokes the idea of location as a character in its own right. The filmmakers went out of their way to find just the right settings: an abandoned church in Gary, Indiana and an underground bunker in Poland are two prominent examples. The bunker shown in the film is not a set, but was built as part of the Nazi line of defense during WWII. The spiral staircase scene is real: the stairs run ten stories deep with over twenty miles of underground tunnels to explore. The locations serve as characters because they tell as much of the story ? perhaps more ? than the humans, showing how much the world has fallen into decay.
Within the simple plot structure, we are left to find subtle messages on our own. At least two dichotomies are evident: Hope versus Chaos, and Freedom versus Safety. Freedom versus Safety is a bit more obvious, as the character of Miranda and her father have a discussion touching on these themes. After years of isolation, she longs to be free, to search for her mother or just to see new surroundings. Her father, perhaps wiser, tries to explain how she is the safest she could ever be: one step outside, and she risks falling victim just like everyone else. So which is the right way to live: alone and safe, or free and struggling?
The character of Chaos is in the form of a man, but could just as easily be a metaphor for chaos in general. The world, left to its own devices, will inevitably decay and turn to dust. He is part of that process, just working at an accelerated rate, killing and smashing as he plows through life like a hurricane. Countering him is Boy, who stands as a metaphor for hope. Just as Chaos wanders, so does Boy, and we get the impression that maybe, possibly, he has not been affected by the virus. Because he is mute we can never fully gauge his memory, but he seems to comprehend the passing of days better than anyone else. If there are more Boys (and Girls) in the world, it may not decay and chaos may not reign after all. This one character (Boy) inverts the whole narrative from a tragic, depressing tale into one of hope.
"Embers" is a complicated film disguised as a simple one. For anyone who wants to see a film about a glimmer of hope in a world at its lowest, this is the film for you. "Embers" premieres July 22 at the Fantasia International Film Festival.