REALIVE: A Sprawling Sci-Fi Epic About Mortality, Morality, & Memory
[Published at Film Inquiry] Human beings react to catastrophic, life-changing news in various ways; every person’s own unique way of coping is slightly different than the next person’s. A diagnosis without a cure, an expiration date, a signed medical contract dictating one’s impending death. Realive is one of the rare science fiction films that confronts immediate subjects such as humankind’s pursuance of immortality, artificial intelligence, the horrifying notion that human beings can be merged with machine. Our main protagonist, Marc (Tom Hughes) is used to explore those not-so-distant themes, placed in a futuristic dystopian society after he’s resurrected from being cryogenically frozen.
In Marc’s case, he is given an irreparable cancer diagnosis. He decides to take the adventurous route and sign up for a cryogenics company to use his body as research. Marc wakes up 60 years later, born again into a brave new world, an act that has consequences he could have never conceived of. The Spanish native, Mateo Gil (screenwriter of Vanilla Sky), has crafted an impressive, philosophical and deeply moving science fiction opera with Realive. It is a tragedy for the ages, literally and figuratively. With subtle yet effectively believable effects, precise and mechanical directing, ethereal cinematography, indelible performances, and substantive themes, Realive astonishes.
Bioethics And Modern Medicine
Simply because we the have the ability to fundamentally change life on a genetic level, does it mean that we should? Is it our moral right to play god? Where does the ethical medical issue of consent come into play during the pursuit of everlasting life, or a life void of disease, suffering, and pain, for that matter? These aren’t just questions that Realive explores, they are questions that everyone should be asking themselves today, as we’ve successfully achieved cloning, the creation of advanced, evolving artificial intelligence, alternative forms of conception and childbirth, and have begun experimentation of genetic splicing in attempts to rid humanity of genetic predispositions to anything that might kill them in the future.
One must also ask themselves whether it is an act of selfishness or selflessness, an ethical debate as old as time. When in doubt, always reference credible, real-life figures. So, I present to you this quote from Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) in Jurassic Park to articulate this great debate:
“You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you’re selling it, you wanna sell it.”
Ah, but, the scientists and doctors who’ve dedicated their lives to reanimating Marc might question that notion in the same sense that John Hammond did: “I don’t think you’re giving us our due credit. Our scientists have done things which nobody’s ever done before,” to which the great Dr. Ian Malcolm would reply: “Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
And this is exactly the point that Gil makes through his display of destitution of Marc’s second life in Realive. These scientists grew drunk off of the power which they were given, ignored the Hippocratic oath, and their egos blinded them of their ethical obligations and any sense of human morality. They expect him to adjust to his new surroundings at the pace at which they want him to so that they can unveil their great scientific breakthrough to the public and mass-reproduce reanimated corpses.
But this world is vastly different than his old one, ideologically and aesthetically. Love is no longer a feeling that dictates the world and those in it; it is a choice, there is no notion of dating, significant others, nor is there a similar moral code. Capitalism has become authoritarian. Welcome to dystopia.
The Isolation Of Rebirth And Cognitive Decline
Imagine being a young person in the prime of your life, mid-twenties, youthful spirit afloat around you, you have a life with friends and somebody you love (Oona Chaplin) more than life itself. You’re hit with news that you don’t have much time to live, and all of that goes down the drain. You have to come to terms that you can’t start a family because it wouldn’t be fair to them, can’t ever have kids. It’s over. Marc took his own life and donated it to a company committed to making cryogenics a reality in the future instead of dealing with the painful process of chemotherapy. These scenes of Marc’s original life are few among Realive’s 112-minute runtime, but they are of paramount importance to weaving the theme of loss into the story.
Gil and cinematographer Pau Esteve Birba film these scenes primarily at night or against a hazy background at dusk, with dim lighting that casts odd shadows upon the faces of Marc and his loved ones the night before his suicide. This creates the feeling that these are moments fading into obscurity in Marc’s mind; memory is not infinite, even though humankind will eventually have the option to live infinitely. Through narratively cohesive flashbacks and quick cuts to these seemingly banal moments executed smoothly by editor, Guillermo de la Cal, Gil and Birbaperceptively distort each reimagining of the same events slightly as the Realive progresses, dark and blurred inside Marc’s reanimated brain.
Contrastingly, upon being resurrected, Marc and the audience are introduced to a blindingly bright color palate; lights shine directly into the viewer’s eyes as Gil places them in Marc’s shoes, shadowy figures hovering over him as he tries to breathe. Just as a newborn baby, we’re unsettlingly thrown into a new setting, an aesthetic in the world that we’ve never seen before: Gil’s minimalist, remote setting on an obscure research facility with views of the ocean, with faint hints and signs of technology decades beyond that of today’s.
Like a fish out of water in a technologically advanced, foreign world, Marc is overwhelmed. He is reborn again, unknowingly, without consent, without fully realizing the ramifications and scientific and medical complexities it takes to live forever. He has to relearn how to talk, walk, even think, while half of his body is prosthetic and merged with an electronic power source. Alas, his memories of the life he cherished so dearly with his loved ones 60 years prior fade with the company’s integration, something Marc couldn’t have anticipated. Now, instead of a 20-something with terminal cancer, he’s a 20-something with Alzheimer’s Disease (a side-effect of losing your old “self”) in an unfamiliar world. Not much of an improvement of quality of life, is it?
Gil urges the viewer to remain in Marc’s shoes as he adjusts to the world 2.0 and experiences his memories fading of his friends and love of his life, giving an almost suffocating sense of helplessness. Unfortunately, this is not what we (and Marc) expected living forever to be like. The shadowy, fading memories eventually become the only respite in this bright new world of Marc’s, until they’re almost gone, his old identity nearly shed. Hughes, whose emotional intelligence and understanding of the complexity of the themes of his source material display an applaudable commitment, gives a star-making performance as Marc.
Marc ins’t only Realive’s protagonist, but its hero. He must make a decision, one that he knows can right the course of time before more damage is done to the integrity of human life. This integrity, this tangibility that is lost over the course of decades, is represented most fully in Marc’s eternal love, Naomi, played with such potency and a contagious lust for life by the limitless Chaplin. Though, this isn’t Romeo and Juliet, this is the real world, and soon, we will be forced to ask the questions that Realive begs for the sake of preserving humanity and its humility essential for survival.
Welcome To The Big Leagues, Syfy
Realive is one of the most powerful, intelligent, and well-executed science fiction films to come out in the last 30 years. The Syfy channel has been around for almost 25 years. And though they have produced thought-provoking, successful content, their production value and lack of execution has always hindered them from joining the ranks of more prestigious channels such as HBO, Showtime, AMC, and, now, FX. However, The Magicians, Wynonna Earp, Van Helsing, and Channel Zero exemplify a new Syfy experience that aims to, and succeeds more often than not in competing with the more showy, binge-worthy networks..
Now, Syfy has successfully entered the much larger realm of theatrical film with Realive, distributed by its sister company formed by Universal and Syfy Ventures, after an unsuccessful start with 400 Days. They’ve found a new champion in writer and director, Mateo Gil, who makes a near-masterpiece out of a modest budget, using minimalist settings to let his themes and performances flourish; the last supper with friends at Marc’s home in his old life, the single setting of the bland hospital in his new one. As such, the audience will have no idea that this wasn’t made on a blockbuster budget. It’s amazing how the correct use of CGI and balance of practical effects can make such a difference as opposed to over-exhausting the audience with visual overstimulation.
Realive is a science fiction drama with a brain, a scientifically altered one that hooks up to a power source beautifully, its story; one that, unlike like its central character, doesn’t lose its electric charge throughout its lengthy runtime. With simplistic yet gorgeous set-pieces, a mastery of paintbrush to canvas through its two leading cameramen, Gil and Birba, heartfelt performances, and alarmingly relevant, thought-provoking themes, Realive marks Syfy Films’ arrival to the silver screen.
Are you excited to see Realive? Do you relate to its themes? Are there any Syfy shows that you find underrated and think the world should know about?
Realive opens theatrically in the US on September 29, 2017, and on digital streaming platforms on October 3, 2017.