A virus has left the world’s population without memory. With no short or long term memory, people aimlessly wander the land as modern civilization slowly crumbles away.
Thanks to a successful kickstarter campaign, new comer Claire Carré was able to bring her debut feature film, “Embers”, to Fantasia and what a feature to debut with. Claire tackles the lofty subject of what is it exactly the defines a person — what is it that makes us who we are. In the case of “Embers”, the film looks to explore if it is in fact our memories that makes us who we are. Is it possible to love someone when we cannot remember them? Are we still capable of harming others if we are unable to remember what violence is?
In “Embers”, a virus has left the human population without memory. People now aimlessly wander around what’s left of their decaying society that’s slowly being overtaken by nature. The film focuses on a group of individuals and their stories: In a derelict building, a young couple sleeping on a mattress wake up to realize they’re unsure of who the other person is — their only connection is a blue ribbon they each wear on their arms. Then there’s a little boy traversing the land alone who comes across an elderly scientist who’s desperately trying to hang on by endlessly reading and researching. And a young woman living in a bunker with her father appears to be one of the last humans who can retain her memory, but her isolated existence brings out her desperation to reconnect with the world.
There was some skepticism going into “Embers” from the uncertainty as to whether or not the concept could sustain the runtime. The idea of an entire world where people lack both short and long term memory is rather abstract and I wasn’t sure how you could build and maintain a feature film around that. Claire Carré and her team found a way to make it work through minimalist direction that focuses on small personal stories with each one covering different aspects of humanity — love, anger, family, etc.
Thankfully the film also chooses to explore these different aspects through observational means rather than a theoretical or philosophical structured narrative. This was the best approach because, again, the concept is abstract. Certainly, in the real world, we have a somewhat understanding of how people are affected by amnesia but more so in terms of functionality. “Embers” proposes more of a existential question: Are people and their individuality define by their memories? Do they function the same when there are no social constructs in place that tells them how to behave even when they cannot remember themselves?
We have no clear answer to this, obviously, yet Claire captures something believable and realistic in these characters. In regards to the young couple, there’s something romantic about watching two people who, deep down in their souls, know that they have an emotional connection to one another but still have to rediscover that love every day. In opposition to that, you have the character Miranda (Greta Fernández) who is able to hold onto her memories by living an isolated life of routines. Even though she can remember who she was and the way the world use to be, her existence is equally, if not more, tragic than those who’ve forgotten.
While the movie offers no answers to the questions that it asks, the way the viewer is left to simply watch these people try to exist without understand what existence is, instantly becomes engaging. There’s no forced plot devices or storytelling elements in the movie. As an example, I thought there was going to be conflict in the form of the character Chaos (Karl Glusman) — an angry, violent character who causes violence and destruction — attacking the couple (Jason Ritter, Iva Gocheva). Thankfully, that never happens. Rather the movie derives tension and drama by utilizing its own concept. Rather than having Chaos attack another character, we watch two characters simply drift apart because they became separated, and in that short time, forgot the other person.
Claire Carré and everyone else behind the movie did an admirable job in putting together a film that’s abstract in nature but is well grounded and has a strong emotional core. “Embers” is an impressive first feature and one of the recent independent films that has helped to reignite my love for science-fiction movies. It’s great to see a movie that uses this genre as a way of exploring existential themes.