OtherLife, a sci-fi flick from Australia, features Jessica De Gouw as brilliant scientist Ren Amari. It’s a story about memory, lived experience, and artificially created experience.
Ren created a drug that can create experiences in the user. These experiences become a real part of a person’s memory, as if they had actually been lived. The artificial experiences only take seconds to happen in real time. A day of snowboarding in the Alps can be had in mere seconds. A whole year in solitary confinement in a prison cell takes one minute in real time – a fact that attracted the attention of the military and the police.
The drug is created with code. That code is “printed” as a liquid which goes into the eye. The film used a kaleidoscopic image to clue you into going into a state of virtual reality on the drug. However, it wasn’t as clear as that. Sometimes you thought you were seeing reality only to learn that it was a virtual reality experience. At the end of the film I wasn’t entirely sure what parts of it really happened.
I’m sure about this much. Ren was working on a startup called OtherLife that would sell these virtual reality experiences to the public. They were to launch in 5 days, but there were still bugs in the code. Her partner Sam (T.J. Power) wanted to let the military in on OtherLife because they needed the money.
Ren’s brother Jared (Liam Graham) almost drowned in a snorkling accident while swimming with Ren. He was in a coma. Ren was convinced that if she used OtherLife to create an alternate ending to the swimming incident, Jared would wake up. She worked frantically at saving Jared and launching her company. Ren used herself as a guinea pig for many of the virtual reality experiences.
Ren’s boyfriend Danny (Thomas Cocquerel) convinced her to take a break from work long enough to have sex. Afterwards, she let him sample the snowboarding in the Alps VR drug. He wanted to do it again and picked up another eyedropper, but that one was Jared’s near drowning experience. He gagged and choked and passed out.
Ren believed Danny died in the drowning reality. She was charged with a crime. Her partner Sam talked the police into letting her serve a year in jail as an OtherLife experience. She agreed, and that’s where it got fuzzy for me.
Was she in solitary confinement for a year or a minute? Did she escape to learn she’d been betrayed by Sam? Did she find a way to try once more to save her brother Jared after losing control of the company she created? Was she trapped in a glitched loop of code?
Maybe it was me. Maybe the plot was intended to be a fuzzy and confusing exercise into the brain’s response to reality – whatever that is – as opposed to virtual reality created by someone else. I didn’t mind not being sure about what was real and what was virtual when the film was over. It was fascinating throughout.
Jessica De Gouw was convincing as the driven and brilliant Ren. OtherLife was beautifully filmed. The scenes in the ocean were particularly gorgeous, but it was all well-done. It was set in Perth, Australia. Ben C. Lucas directed.
In the world outside of movies, more and more uses are devised for virtual reality. As a society, I think we need more talk about the implications of that. OtherLife is one of several films that could be used as a way into a discussion.
The film is currently streaming on Netflix.