Friday, September 30, 2011


Movies have given me many sensations over the years. Linklater's A Scanner Darkly and Lyne's Jacob's Ladder, for instance, both got me what I can only call high; Jodorowsky's Holy Mountain made me feel I was being metaprogrammed a la Robert Anton Wilson... there are others, you get the idea.

Sebastian Brahm's first feature, Roman's Circuit, though, is the first one that made me feel like a guinea pig.


To quote Inigo Montoya, let me esplain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Roman's Circuit concerns an odd and upsetting stage in the career of Roberto Roman, a neuroscientist of some renown. As a young man, he shipped a groundbreaking theory of memory migration -- the process by which memories mutate over time from a straight-up record of an event or period into a conscious narrative, which he says happens when different "circuits" of the brain take up these memories over time -- under the guidance of a mentor for whom, years later and somewhat washed up, he returns to work with. Said mentor being his mother's boyfriend. And Roman's ex-girlfriend is dating a departmental rival. And the department is encountering opposition to its experimentation, which relies a lot on animals. And stuff.

But the plot isn't really the thing here, cut up into shards of revelation and startling image as it is.

Brahm has done something quite subtle and remarkable here. As the film opens, we are given pieces of story, exposed to ideas and images and dynamics; we are given the raw stuff, in fact, of a memory. And as the film continues, it and our own brains integrate more ideas, more layers, more elements that subtly but profoundly change our understanding of what's going on. Our memories change, and with them our reactions to certain repeated scenes and images -- the poster falling down as seen in the trailer above, for instance, is seen several times and has different overtones each time.

Think on all of that for a moment. Do you have memories that have maybe changed over time? My own experience here bears out what I'm saying quite vividly. For instance, my ten-year class reunion was a revelation: lots of people I thought I'd known very well (ours was a small school in a small town and 90% of my graduating class had been in pre-school with me), remembered a whole lot of things a whole lot differently from how I recalled them, were sometimes completely backwards about things. Or was I?

It thus occurred to me, about 2/3 of the way during the film, that given that animal research is becoming more and more problematic, scientists are perhaps someday going to have to develop new methods of experimentation. And mightn't one of them, for neuroscientists and psychologists at least, be narrative film?

I got the opportunity to ask this of Brahm, more generally in the Q&A (TIFF tickets are worth the expense just for the Q&A, they really, really are) and in person after the screening. He smiled at the thought, kind of mysteriously, and seemed taken with the idea.

So I wonder what kind of data point I form...

Roman"s Circuit and a less-good film we also saw (mp3)

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