Science fiction has a quite beautiful potential in that it can be portrayed with any given tone, emotional register and creative aesthetic. It can have the brute force of clanking metal doors and ray guns of big budget fare, the low key, barely discernible genre trappings of Never Let Me Go or Another Earth or anything in between.
“Realive” is a story about cryogenic freezing and the idea that we can be reanimated years or decades in the future when the disease that was going to kill us can finally be cured, but that description doesn’t nearly do the design and tone of the film justice.
Marc (Tom Hughes) is a successful designer with a stunning oceanside house and a beautiful girlfriend in Naomi (Oona Chaplin), but we only learn that in quietly and slowly unfolding layers of his life as the chronology cuts back and forth. When we first meet him he’s bereft, wandering the streets near a giant oil refinery in despair.
Marc has been diagnosed with a particularly aggresive and terminal cancer, and when he starts to think about the cryonics procedure it becomes a race to put himself to sleep to be preserved before his illness does too much damage to body tissues. Over dinners with Naomi and their friends the debate becomes about robbing them (and him) of as much of him as they’ll ever get versus ending his life quickly to save it later.
Marc awakens in the year 2084 in a stunning techno-utopia. It’s a world that looks like it’s been built by Apple designers and while that sounds like a glib criticism, the world of clean, white lines and welcoming tactility has been built with extreme care and love by writer/director Mateo Gil and his production and VFX designers.
Marc is the first man successfully reanimated to the capacity he starts to achieve. Assisted by a team of doctors including the friendly and beautiful Elizabeth (Charlotte Le Bon), he relearns how to walk, his hair growing back while he convalesces in his futuristic hospital/health spa home.
But there’s a darker story at play in the future, Marc gradually finding out he’s only a tool for the corporate overlords of the project to attract investors to their research. What’s more, he’s not the only one in the program, and its true nature is more monstrous than he imagined.
The denouement of the story is a bit less clear than the flawless design or the emotional timbre of the performances and direction, feeling either like Gil’s script didn’t have the confidence in the resolution that his talent has in scene design or that it’s just a bit mishandled in the delivery.
But any narrative wobbles are more than made up for. Movies like the little seen Jaco von Dormael gem “Mr Nobody” and Jean-Marc Vallée’s “Wild” have a dreamlike quality, scenes seeming to melt into another like the tendrils holding plants or organs together rather than using any kind of traditional transitions, and “Realive” does the same.
The whole movie has a drifting quality that makes the joins between scenes and each scene itself a delicate dance of emotion and colour, elements we don’t usually equate with science fiction. Some scenes do little other than give us sensory snapshots of Marc’s life, memories he’s giving up or bringing back to life about his childhood, home, family and lovers.
And the story is just as dreamlike. “Realive” doesn’t tell it straight, instead cutting back and forth and unfolding at its own speed – it isn’t until late in the film we discover that Marc and Naomi didn’t actually share a love affair for the ages, for instance. They spent most of their lives in each others’ orbit while they went through relationships and dalliances with other partners, only finally coming together when it seems to be too late.
If you like your sci-fi to be not just emotional and thought provoking but visually lush without having to be about spaceships, Avengers or Transformers, look no further.