Other Worlds Austin: Embers

Award-winner examines the terror and liberation of forgetting

What defines who you are? For many, it's their memories, their experiences, what they have done and where they have been and who was there with them, that sets their nature. Embers poses one question: What if you can remember none of that?

Somebody that I used to know: Greta Fernandez ponders the terror and freedom of amnesia in Embers.

It's a concept that could make a great basis of a fine contemporary Doctor Who episode. With enemies like the elusive Silence, showrunner Steven Moffat has played with the slippery nature of memory. But there's no time-travelling Gallifreyan here to fix this cerebral slip.

Instead, each character is newly born every time they blink: Two people (Gravity Falls' Jason Ritter and Iva Gocheva) convinced they must be lovers; a researcher (Tucker Smallwood) who attempts to apply logic to his situation; a violent, screaming barbarian (Karl Glusman) who flails through the chaos; a lost boy (Silvan Friedman), wide-eyed and innocent; and a daughter and father (Greta Fernandez and Roberto Cots). That final pair are the only ones that know what is going on: A virus destroys all memories. End a conversation, go round a corner, leave someone behind, and everything prior to that moment is erased.

Writer/director Claire Carré deservedly took home the inaugural Mary Shelley Award this weekend at the second Other Worlds Austin fest. With nothing more than performances and ruins, she creates a convincing and enthralling world. More importantly, she achieves that to which the best sci-fi aspires: She probes the nature of what it is to be human. She examines the quixotic nature of memory as both enlightenment and burden, moral boundary and source of pain. Each character treads a different path in this amnesiac's Divine Comedy, and each finds a different meaning in this meaningless world. In that ambiguity, she finds tragedy, poignancy, and even optimism.

Embers is both poetic and cerebral, and in an ideal world a label that specializes in the poetic and cerebral will give it a home (IFC, Oscilloscope, I'm looking at you). Ultimately, it provides a touching insight into what we are without that which makes us what we are, and does so with a graceful compassion.

For more on Embers, visit www.embersmovie.com

For more on the Other Worlds Austin, visit www.otherworldsaustin.com.

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