History Rewritten by The Mandela Effect
Sci fi tragedy gets its world premiere in Austin
By Richard Whittaker,
4:10PM, Tue. Oct. 22, 2019
David Guy Levy apologizes. The director is still in the middle of getting his head around his thoughts about his film. The Mandela Effect, which gets its world premiere in Austin this week. "I haven't really explained it yet to anyone," he said. But then, maybe that's harder than it seems. Maybe it isn't what it once was.
That's the key to the Mandela Effect, a very real phenomenon in which the popular memory of an event has nothing to do with what happened.
Nelson Mandela dying on Robin Island in the mid-80s? Not true, and it doesn't matter how many people tell you he did.
The Berenstein Bears? Check your kids' library. It is, and always was, Berenstain, like the authors.
Sinbad playing a genie in Shazam? Check IMDb.
The Mandela Effect, playing Wed. Oct. 22 as part of Other Worlds' year-round Orbiter Series, injects that idea into a personal tragedy. Brandan (Charlie Hofheimer, who also starred in Levy's horror Would You Rather) is a father who has lost his child in a freak accident. Yet he suddenly finds hope when he starts discovering that little bits of the world aren't what he remembers (where –is– Curious George's tail?) and seems to be changing retroactively. This sends him tumbling down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories to the answer to a dire question: is it worse that he's losing his mind after his child's death, or that the universe is not real? He becomes fixated with the simulation hypothesis, that reality is in fact an elaborate program emulating reality, and the Mandela Effect isn't bad memories, but glitches in the code. So if the universe is a digital experiment, maybe it can be rewritten to give him his daughter back?
Austin Chronicle: So what's your favorite iteration of the Mandela Effect?
David Guy Levy: Man, that's the kind of question that I wish I'd thought about for an hour. There's one that I saw recently that someone reminded me I had a year ago. I was meditating and one popped into my head. I definitely spent all of high school using CliffNotes, and someone reminded me CliffsNotes, with an s.
One of my friends first explained to me about the Mandela effect, which first set me on this journey, the one that hooked me was the Berenstein Bears. Even though that's probably the most referenced, so it feels the most cliched using it, with that one I was probably at my youngest because I was read them as a very young child. So to be affected by that one is the most visceral reaction.
AC: What's fascinating is the number of people who, it doesn't matter how much evidence you provide, they'll still go, "The evidence is wrong."
DGL: And then the argument becomes, "Well, I'm not the only one and all these people agree," and so it's hard to have a back-and-forth when people have made up their mind. The one thing that human's don't like to do is admit that they're wrong. so it doesn't matter what side of the debate you're on, you're going to stick to what you think is right.
AC: So how did that idea fold into this story of a grieving father, who wants to believe that the universe can be rewritten to fix his pain?
DGL: A couple of plates were turning, and they all crashed into each other. One was my friend who introduced me to the Mandela effect, just meeting a buddy at lunch and going down a two hour rabbit hole. I'd never heard of this, and, "Oh, my gosh, that is the way I remember this." At the same time in my life, I was reading some theories on the simulation hypothesis, and [Swedish philosopher] Nick Bostrom, who's an Oxford professor, had done some interesting work in that area, and people like [neuroscientist and podcaster] Sam Harris. It just became more and more interesting, and I started reading a lot. So those were two separate plates, and they fit together very well for what I was interested in.
But on a personal level, my wife was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer – she's fine now, she's in remission, but at the time it knocked the wind out of me and was very disorienting. Then a few months later Trump got elected and people went, "We didn't see this coming. What's going on? Did someone hack the simulation?" There was a New Yorker article about how we were living in a simulation because of the election. All these things happened at the same time, and I just started questioning whether we really were living in a simulation – and I never really answered that for myself.
AC: And it helps that your cowriter, Steffen Schlachtenhaufen, has also worked on reality-stretching shows like In Search of Monsters and The Universe.
DGL: It's one of my favorite side gigs that he has. He's won Emmys for these History Channel shows, and it's fun to go over and see these big statues for Codes and Conspiracies.
I've actually been on a couple of them. He says, "Oh, I'm doing this shoot, it's aliens invading Earth and what would happen." I'm always like, "Um, can I come?" I won't tell you which ones, but I've been in about 10 of his shows, and my friends will catch it and go, "Is this you on the Military Channel?" "Yup, that's me! Why are you watching this at three in the afternoon?"
AC: We've seen simulation hypothesis films before, like The Matrix or Dark City, but there we see very quickly that there are shadowy figures moving the pieces. You're much more opaque about ...
DGL: Who or why or to what end?
AC: Yes. You put the deus back into deus ex machina, playing it very ambiguous as to whether Brendan is on to something, or clinging to ghosts.
DGL: In a very early draft there were soldiers, but they started to remind us of The Matrix and we didn't want to tell that story. So very early one we went, "Delete them." We didn't want the antagonists to be interesting – because would a scientist want to enter the experiment and change what the data is going to show them, or would they let it play out and run the experiment again?
Other Worlds presents The Mandela Effect world premiere, Wed., Oct. 23, Galaxy Highland. Director David Guy Levy and cast members Charlie Hofheimer, Aleksa Palladino and Robin Lord Taylor in attendance. Tickets and info at www.otherworldsfilmfest.com.