I watched Coma (2019). This is like a Russian version of The Matrix and derivative films, but superior in many ways. An American-dubbed version is available on Amazon Prime.

It starts with a fantastic cityscape growing before us, like a mega-sized version of Dubai orother modern towers of capital.

But then the image distorts and dissolves away, and we catch a brief glimpse of what seems to be a driver just before a car crash and then a field of glass shards.

Then we resolve back to what appears to be the window of an ordinary apartment, and the camera pulls back to show an architect’s model of the fantastic city we saw earlier is set up on the floor. But there’s a weird effect going on as details of the scene seem to be regrowing from black tendrils and voids.

We pull back finally to see the architect himself wake up, somewhat confused by his surroundings.

Notice that in the centre of his wall he’s got what appears to be a sketch study from one of Magritte’s later paintings, in which the sky is revealed to be composed of solid blocks – an example is “The Night Of Pisa” in the banner at the top of this post. Magritte seems to be a visual influence on this film and some of the juxtapositions are similar to his work, a style also seen in Vivarium. I wonder who the busts we can see in this apartment represent.

Anyway, Viktor soon notices the instability in the surfaces around him, and when he goes out he sees passersby are similarly afflicted with incompleteness as are the buildings.

But that’s overtaken by the greater mystery of how the city he lives in seems to be a colossal soup of fragments from all around the world, and twisted around in the weird geometry of Escher paintings and with abrupt shifts of gravity as well.

Soon he is being attacked by the strange black decaying monsters, and also rescued from them by the other fully-human inhabitants who seem to be a rebel guerrilla force in this decrepit reality. He is taken back to their base, and in an audacious move we cut straight to the point: he’s told that he’s in a coma, and so are all the other real people, somehow their minds combine together in this metaphysical interzone. It’s composed of memories of the world but they can’t remember fully who they were in that world, though they have dreams of it, which materialise features of their past (Viktor soon has a dream that creates a replica of a crashed car, with his body trapped in it). The weird contradictory geometries are due to the superposition of alternative memories, and this leads to useful misdirections: the rebel base is reached by getting in a wrecked old bus in a field, and then getting out of the bus next to a building: two different memories of the derelict have fused to create a fold inside this space.

The black creatures are apparently The Reapers, who seem to be the dead souls of coma patients who died and whose appearance now represents the onset of brain death in anyone attacked by them. All this knowledge of the truth about this world comes from one of the coma patients who briefly recovered consciousness and remembered what they’d realised when they slipped back out of it (we later realise this is not the whole truth at all). It never makes much sense about what the rebels are doing in running around fighting or how they can beat back the Reapers, or anything they do, but who cares – just enjoy the amazing visuals. In particular, the mission to the dead submarine to retrieve a torpedo for a supply of explosive.

Notice also the bit when one of the rebels sees a tatty old Russian flag and has a vague stirring of memory about the old country he once lived in.

Is this an extremely arch and subtle work of political satire against Putin’s Russia and the use of nostalgia and history and all that? Maybe, maybe not. I doubt that Gogol’s Dead Souls is being alluded to either, though that’s a pity. This film does have a quasi-messianic baddie with loony ideas about creating a utopia in the cerebral limbo that these people inhabit.

It was pretty clear from the start that Viktor got in the coma because he was at an important meeting before his car crash, and he gets out so we can have an infodump at 2/3 of the way through the film in which vital extra plot comes in and the baddie becomes clear. As you’d expect he’s a crazed scientist with more motives than he needs. His research programme was cut to fund one about cellulite instead; but also Big Pharma aren’t nice people, and modern medicine leaves a lot of patients worse off; also it turns out that all human mental activity is electrical and therefore dreams and daytime are just the same thing, and so on… not all these reasons are any good, and it’s a bloody relief when he gets killed off in the middle of a pompous and intellectually threadbare monologue.

Things that don’t make sense: how this limbo can have some kind of stable physical laws and cycles (why is there night time?) and also that some of the coma people have extra superpowers, yet don’t use them consistently, and why are the Reapers constrained by physical, spatiotemporal limits if they’re simply avatars of events occurring in a separate material realm anyway? The trouble with all these cinematic virtual realities are the pedestrian imaginations of the directors who invent them, especially dullards like Christopher Nolan, who can never grasp the possibility of a genuinely strange universe devoid of laws or consistency. The first 30 minutes of this film looked like it might deliver, and it didn’t completely lose the feeling. The weird fragments of worlds strung together by threads look like neurons and synapses in the sky blocks, and this is the nearest any sci-fi film has got to turning the world inside out and suggesting the outside is all within.

One thought on “Shards

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