FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL CAPSULE 2020: MINOR PREMISE (2020)

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Screening online for Canadians at 2020’s online Fantasia Film Festival

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Eric Schultz

FEATURING: Sathya Sridharan, Paton Ashbrook, Dana Ashbrook

PLOT: Ethan uses his brain-mapping device to “massage” his brain to greater heights of intelligence, but a drunken miscalibration leaves his mind splintered.

COMMENTS: It’s ironic that Minor Premise gets saddled with the word “minor,” whereas the short film upon which it was based carried the briefer but more forthright title, “Premise”. This could suggest, perhaps, a comparative deficiency (and act as insurance against stroppy reviewers), but that isn’t for me to say—I have not seen the seven-minute short that became the germ of the ninety-five minute feature. What I can say with certainty is that the title Minor Premise suggests a greater degree of nuance—and there is nuance aplenty in this delightful Cronenberg/Nolan mash-up.

The Cronenberg aspect: Ethan (a bleary-eyed Sathya Sridharan, who seems perpetually covered with insomnia grease) is a brilliant-but-anxious scientist who has just about perfected his father’s memory-imaging machine. Bitterly drunk one evening and reading his father’s notes (mysteriously sent to him), he decides to go full-in with his R-10 machine and grow his intellect with a little synapse massaging. Unfortunately, Ethan didn’t learn an important lesson from eminent teleportator Seth Brundle: never, ever, ever, dive into your own machine while drunk and annoyed. (There’s a reason top scientists are given grad students, y’know?)

The experiment leads to the plot’s Christopher Nolan angle, specifically a conceit similar to his early masterpiece, Memento. Ethan suffered from blackouts prior to this experiment, but afterwards he is reduced to a mere six minutes of awareness for every… how long? As a man of science, he uses each of his six-minute slices as best he can determine what is happening the rest of the time. He is aided by another six-minute self whom he doesn’t remember, but who leaves behind helpful recordings, and also by a comprehensive array of security cameras throughout the house. Working from .mpg files, note scraps, and strange clues in the form of accumulating debris around his home and lab, Ethan discovers that he has “massaged” his disparate emotions into equal, but isolated, Ethan-entities.

It is all too infrequent to come across thoughtful science fiction, but Eric Shultz’s debut feature fits that bill nicely. Minor Premise never gets as dark as Cronenberg (this is not a criticism), and isn’t quite as clockwork-clever as Nolan (a criticism, perhaps, albeit a minor one). But it demonstrates that a new and exciting talent has entered this woefully underpopulated scene. Minor Premise would hold its own in a high-minded pentad capping off the (wonderfully) smarty-pants narrative marathon of The Fly, Pi, Memento, and Primer. Schultz’s movie ends on a happy—and ambiguous—enough note to pleasantly round out your long evening of chin-scratching.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Though avowedly minor, the premise of Schultz’s film … is certainly convoluted and conceptually challenging… If Schwartz’s film messes with people’s minds metaphorically, the R10 does so literally – and there is a next-generation version of this device on its way. This is where the otherwise locked-in Minor Premise becomes political: because in today’s world of corporate control and narcissistic, lying leaders, we all know, and some of us fear, what it is like to be manipulated, deceived and gaslit by a psychopath.”–Anton Bitel, Projected Figures (festival screening)

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