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Monday, 19 January 2015

Pale Blue Dot (2013)

Director: Aaron Schuppan
Stars: Nic English and Mandahla Rose
This film was an official selection at the 10th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2014. Here's an index to my reviews of 2014 films.
This Australian short film is a neatly challenging science fiction piece with a rather apt title that speaks to scale and contrast. The original pale blue dot was the planet Earth in a photograph taken by the Voyager 1 probe at a distance of 40 astronomical units (or 3.7 billion miles) while it was travelling away from us at 40,000 mph. This image of the only planet on which man has currently set foot, as a pale blue dot almost invisible in the immensity of space, is a stark reminder of perspective. While the human race is a writhing presence on our planet, we're what Douglas Adams described as 'an infinitesimal dot on an infinitesimal dot' when compared to the majesty of creation. This particular story, written by the film's director, Aaron Schuppan, with Nina Pearce, neatly plays with the same sort of contrast, recounting the story of the end of our world entirely through two of the people who live on it, Francoise and Vincent, a young Australian husband and wife.

As the film begins, Francoise is much more than half of a couple. She's an astronaut, a time traveller and the centre of a media frenzy. She was sent through a wormhole by the Planet Patrol to the near future, in a rather unlikely spacesuit of cloth and pearls, and she returns to a clamour of questions from the media which are suitably blurred together but all ask a variant of 'What happens to us?' Her clear reply is a dark one indeed: 'We all died,' she explains. While most short films might concentrate on how the apocalypse happens or what we can do to change it, this one remains steadfastly at the level of a young couple, who presumably mean the world to each other, and especially Francoise, who finds herself in a notably tough situation. Should she be with her husband in the future, where he may be the only other person still alive but at least is on the same page as her, or should she be with her husband in the past, where the rest of us still exist but he's struggling to recognise her after her experiences? That's a tough call.

I guess this approach makes it a romance, albeit hardly a standard one, but it's also a thoughtful piece of science fiction. Perhaps to aid the confusion that the lead character feels in such a situation, Schuppan is not of the mind to make things easy for us. He cuts back and forth between the Francoise and Vincent of the future and those of the past, so it's often difficult to be sure precisely which we're watching. This may well be deliberate, to conjure up that confusion and make us think about how we might respond in such a scenario, but it's still rather disorientating. The choice to concentrate on one couple disorientates us too, as the world ends in this film, in between scenes, while we have no idea as to why. I liked all this, though many won't. The downside for me was the credibility of Francoise's unlikely spacesuit and her launch into the future; I didn't buy her as an astronaut either. Perhaps it's not about space at all, it's a take on mental illness and escape, because really it's all about what we feel about our own pale blue dot.

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