Let's Chat About That Confusing Movie OtherLife
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Let’s Chat About That Confusing Movie OtherLife

Ok ok ok – so the title is a little click baity, it isn’t tooo confusing. But it was confusing enough that I have had a couple people dm me wondering about the movie and my take on it. So while airborne, I watched it the other day and thought it had potential as a movie we could discuss here. So shall we?

Stop. If you are new here (and most of you are, so welcome!) THiNC. is a website dedicated to finding obscure, interesting, movies with twists, or complications, or un-ironed out loose ends worth talking about. Mind Job movies are the best. But even Kristen Stewart’s Personal Shopper (and Clouds of Sils Maria, now that I think of it) played well here. Obviously time travel and singularity movies like Time Lapse, Timecrimes, Predestination, Coherence, are way fun to discuss. But more complicated indie movies like They Look Like People, If There’s a Hell Below, I Don’t Feel Home In This World Anymore, also yield fantastic treasures under the weight of our collective and learned gaze here at THiNC. Hahaha. So if OtherLife was a movie you enjoyed, you might find some soulmates in the comment sections you might want to exchange BFF forms with. Which is totally ok by me. I will allow that sort of thing. But just keep commenting.

If You Haven’t Seen OtherLife

OtherLife is a intriguing little film that plays with the idea of virtual reality, but not virtual reality as a software system, but virtual reality as a chemical and biological idea. Better yet? The OtherLife (I believe that is the name of the company, I have no idea now that I think about it) company was founded by two people, the main creator being Ren. Ren has her own designs on how to use this new “drug”. But her partner, Sam? He is way different ideas on how to monetize on this virtual wonderland of the mind. One would like to make the mind an incarceration center. The other a cure for paralysis in the real world. Etc. Etc. And that, my friends? That is the playground where this little gem of a flick dances. So yeah, the film is definitely worth watching. Go find it. It’s on Netflix right now so basically it’s already on your phone. Go watch it. In the meantime, the rest of this review will be for those that have already seen it.

Alright?! The rest of this discussion is 100% spoiler filled. I want to walk through the who’s the what’s … especially the how’s. So let’s get to it.

Quick Overview of the Details of OtherLife

As the movie kicks off we quickly learn that a new drug, called OtherLife is about to be launched in just a couple days. (Literal movie time? Actually 7 years later?!? Not quite, but something like that.) As I mentioned above, the drug actually allows a virtual reality experience in the brain, and in these OtherLife experiences time slows to a hundredth or even a thousandth of normal time experiences. (I would tell you specifically but the movie isn’t consistent with the durations internally and externally. One moment a minute in real world is a year, another? It’s several days.) And these experiences include free diving, snowboarding, the works. The team at Otherlife is fairly certain they are going to make bank if only they can keep the pesky glitches for reappearing.

Simultaneously we learn that Ren, the genius behind the drug recently was with her brother when he had an accident diving which left him in a coma, unresponsive, and in the hospital. So torn by this new development Ren is spending enormous amounts of in-OtherLife time heading into the launch trying to heal her brother. You see, she believes that her brother’s mind can heal itself if only it can perceive the real world experience differently… see that everything is ok. And poof! Wake up.

Simultaneously to the previous Simultaneously Sam is quite nervous that the drug will find buyers, big buyers that can help float the company out from under much of the debt they’ve taken on. He wants numerous VR-experiences that are 100% play tested and you know what, there has to be another way that this technology can pay off… and the Penal System seems like a perfect winner now that you mention it. The Penal System? Yeah, what if you could spend your 3 year incarceration sentence entombed inside your mind, but only have it take a couple of minutes? I know! Brilliant, right?!? Or not. Anyway, Sam is making deals left and right. Which, when Kenny accidentally takes an untested OtherLife dose and dies? Well, Ren is between the proverbial rock and the hard place. And Sam is able to not only push forward with his Penal System code base, but he’s also able to use Ren as it’s first test subject. Win, win, win!

The Forking Realities of OtherLife

For you non-software developers out there, a fork in the code is when the code base is duplicated and thoroughly changed so much that it isn’t associated anymore with the previous codebase. Well, from here on out reality starts to fork… one reality goes <—- that way, while a different reality entirely heads —-> that way. So Ren is confined to her brain, but when the year is up the routine doesn’t exit properly and it loops over again. But this time Ren finds a way out of her cell. She escapes the lot she has been held captive on. And she begins trying to figure out what has been going on the past year she was gone.

Wait. What?

When you saw Ren escaping out of the box containing her in her mind that she was actually escaping out of her mind into reality or did you believe that she was actually escaping deeper into her brain? I, not for one second, assumed she was awake. So I was a little shocked when the movie begin treating her like she was awake. It didn’t even make a good effort to convince us that she wasn’t actually put under, but that she had actually been alive the whole time… just sequestered. Or did I miss that. Because that would have really helped sell this idea.

Regardless, Danny actually isn’t dead. Yay! She went to prison for nothing! And thankfully, he is helping her get her code back so that she can get back to helping wake Ren up, because really? That’s all that matters to Ren. Well, besides a side stop with her dad, who, apparently was the original creator of the Otherlife. Who knew? Well, all of this culminates in Ren perfecting the drug and then giving it to her brother. Who promptly wakes up and the flight lines. But what’s this? Ren starts hearing things? And eyelid like visions are appearing over “reality”?!? Seems like she is waking up!

Finally back in reality she learns that Danny did actually die. Sam seems like he is cool. But when she tells him that he can have the company. She wants out. That she’ll just keep the patents on the tech though (is there anything else to the company other than the patents? Such a baffling thing to say. Of course Sam isn’t going to be cool with this.) But Sam wigs out, and wipes more of the Penal Colony code in her eyes, and voila! Just like that she’s back in prison. But not this time! “It’s just code, I’ve done this before.” And like that she breaks out of her brain and into reality. And in a move straight out of a Bruce Lee movie, Ren wipes some of the OtherLife code from her dripping eye and wipes it into Sam’s eye and forces him through what she went through. And she makes certain that he forces him there through the end of an entire year to show him the bad code, and the horribly developed exit routine.

Ren meets up with her dad. The mourn their son/brother. And Ren walks out to the place in the real world where her brother’s accident happened… end of line. I think. Right? That was basically what happened?

Several Problems with OtherLife

First, can I just say, so I can get this off of my chest… that isn’t how software is tested. It just doesn’t work that way. Gah. There’s user testing, acceptance testing, regression testing, integration testing… it’s all way more complex than how this movie shows it to be. But I’m just going to shut up on this point and let it go. I swear.

Second. From a logical linear progression standpoint, the first time Ren was put in the prison she hacked a wall in her mind, and proceeded to run around… inside her mind. The movie tells us this is true. (I will be happy to posit how this could be false, but let’s assume for now, that it is true.) The second time she was put in the prison she did something completely differently that was nothing similar to the first time. She hacked the code and woke up. It’s a significant difference.

And finally, I am fine with a movie lying to me – but please, convince me first that you are telling the truth before you lie to me.

Interesting Observations In the OtherLife

It’s rare that anyone encroaches on Christopher Nolan territory and no one makes a stink. So for that fact alone OtherLife should be given a medal. They have stomped through the Inception playbook and didn’t even once look back or ask for a single ‘by your leave’. So just for that I give this movie a slow clap standing ovation. That takes guts. Now, the question we have left for us here is basically the same one we have at the end of Inception – is Ren actually out of the dream? Or did she drop down another layer??! hahah. Hey, if the movie creators can lie to us and tell us she wasn’t ever locked up mentally, just physically (which obviously they can), only to find out that she in fact was. Why can’t I ask if she really did wake up?

I did rather enjoy keep to truths mentally at play as the movie was going forward. Danny alive. Danny dead. Brother alive. Brother dead. A year advanced. No time advanced. Etc. Etc. Made it more enjoyable overall to watch as they pulled those switches. But I was fairly baffled when I realized the movie was trying to sell Ren as awake when I knew nothing could be further from the truth. Couldn’t they have given us more on that from? Show her a tape of her being drugged and then carried into her cell? Something like that when she first breaks out. That would have done it for me. AH! They didn’t drug her. The put her in a box in real life! haha. Ohhhhhh! No they DIDNT!  See what I mean? It would have worked better. Or were you guys tricked by it? Don’t be offeneded! gah. I didn’t mean it like that.

Conclusions on The OtherLife

The OtherLife was a good movie. Productions values throughout were fantastic. This team needs to do more work together. Really really well done. And I’m betting the budget wasn’t extravagant either. But they used it well to enable a complicated idea. The acting was very well done. No Oscars happening here, but really well played all the way around the horn. I am glad that a number of you talked me into watching this movie. It was a lot of fun. What were your thoughts on the movie? Tell me about them in the comments.

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9 Responses

  1. greg frederick

    Hi Taylor,

    I thought it was intriguing and entertaining, though it didn’t break any new ground and instead just borrowed from several sources. It had more value to me as a story about people and what makes them do what they do, rather than being interesting from a conceptual standpoint. For instance, the switch from Ren wanting to save her brother to letting him go, or the obviously implied impact on her business partner from spending a year in solitary and the ensuing terror of the loop back to day one. I thought it was a bit subtle amid all the plot devices, but the human story being told was interesting.

    I disagree that there needed to be a scene showing Ren getting drugged in order to make it believable that she was actually kidnapped and imprisoned in real life. I don’t think we were ever supposed to believe that she was. It was so obvious from an outsider’s viewpoint that she wasn’t – for starters, her hair never grew. I think it was more important that she experienced what she did after her “escape”, in order to show what she was going through emotionally.

    Anyways, thanks as always for being awesome.

    Best,
    Greg

    Reply
    • greg frederick

      Ah, touché!

      I made the classic mistake of mouthing off without being fully informed first. I withdraw my previous opinion, and thank you for the correction, good sir.

      I am blown away that the screenplay made it through a number of hands and revisions and nobody realized the need for reinforcing the misdirection with some kind of proof such as your video idea. Perhaps I’ve just seen/read too many sci-fi stories with similar misdirections to be fooled very easily.

      I enjoyed learning that for the author, besides the compressed virtual solitary concept, the focus of the story was on Ren’s emotional journey. As mentioned previously, that was my favorite part of the movie. I hope to read the book, as I bet Ren’s internal dialogue delves much deeper into the complexities of her journey.

      Thank you,
      Greg

      P.S. I want to read your short story!

      Reply
      • Taylor Holmes

        Yeah, I agree with you on the misdirection bit. If that was the intent, and it was, then sell the heck out of it. Could have been done several ways. Her stumbling upon a security video feed. A friend from the company saying something about how they are sorry they were complicit in her year long entrapment. Whatever. There are like 9 ways it could have been done and reinforced in order to make the audience go… OH. I guess, maybe, yeah?

        And yes, totally, I’ve just started the book and am very intrigued to watch for the differences throughout. It was a great movie in its own right though. Oh, and my short story? Can be found her: https://taylorholmes.com/2014/03/04/silence-post-apocalyptic-short-story/ so yeah, there you go! hahah. Let me know when you have the screenplay done! hehehe.

  2. Kelley Eskridge

    “…her stumbling upon a security video feed.”

    Hah. Yep, that’s exactly how I did it in my version of the script that the director then revised out. When Ren, Danny & Cass break into Byron’s office, Ren finds video files on his computer of every moment of her time in the cell, with date stamps. It’s that video that makes her friends and father understand the true horror of what she went through. I still think it should have been in the film.

    But the challenge as well as the joy of being a screenwriter is that other people don’t always see it the same way, and they influence the outcome based on their perspective.

    Reply
    • Taylor Holmes

      Oh fascinating. Want to slip me that version of the script?!?! I’d love to read it. And Kelley, sorry, totally spaced sending you the link to our conversation… but I’m guessing that you found it! haha.

      But overall, I am betting most people went with it as it was. They probably assumed she was out. And it wasn’t even an issue for them. I am not a normal audience member by any stretch. So it’d be interesting to see what other viewers thought of that one detail. Betting it wasn’t even a thing that crossed their minds. Better yet? I bet most were surprised when she wakes up out of “reality”.

      Hey gang, if you are reading this – what was your thought on whether Ren was locked up in reality verses whether she was locked up in her mind after she “got out”? Love to hear other thoughts on this.

      Reply
  3. Rich

    Hi Taylor,

    This is my first post here. I’ve been checking out this site for a while though and whenever I come across a head-wasting ‘psy-fi’ movie (psychological sci-fi… does that work?) I always search for your write-ups on here, they’re always full of neat insight.

    I loved this film, and will admit I was suckered in by the whole ‘the prison was real’ twist. I think whether or not this twist works on the viewer is key to them fully enjoying the story. I would have probably been frustrated by the second twist (Ren still being inside OtherLife) if I saw through the first one.

    I thought I’d share why I believed the first twist. To me it made perfect sense due to the deteriorating relationship between Ren and Sam; Sam wanted to push his ‘mind prison’ concept, Ren was against it and Sam knew that Ren experiencing it probably wouldn’t change her mind. So he needed her out the way for a year and this would have been the perfect ruse. As soon as that clicked in my head I didn’t even consider Ren was still inside the simulation.

    I was a bit puzzled by Ren’s ‘hacking out’ of the second incarceration though (after Sam forced the liquid into her eye). Looking back on it I’m guessing Ren realised she could cause some kind of system/loop error by remaining calm and making it look like days were being duplicated (whereas during the first incarceration she lived every day differently) but it wasn’t clear, and I don’t remember this being foreshadowed (although I’d happily be proved wrong here).

    I didn’t consider she might still be living in OtherLife during the whole third act either… but will look for clues on the second viewing 🙂

    Lastly I agree with Greg above that this movie works brilliantly as a character-driven piece even if you aren’t sold on the plot/concept. There is a real conflict of personalities, goals and emotional reactions driving things forward, which really adds weight to things. It’s made me want to check out ‘Wasted on the Young’ if I can track it down!

    Reply
    • Taylor Holmes

      Hey Rich,
      Thanks for the comment – and for jumping out of the shadows! hahah. I love hearing about folks that have been checking in occasionally and eventually jump in with both feet. I’m always wondering who you guys are that are lurking out there but wonder back on occasion. I mean, I SEE THE DATA in my analytics panel after all! hahah.

      Yes, I mentioned that in my comment back to Kelley Eskridge above – who was the writer of the screenplay (you can check out my interview with her here if you missed it: https://taylorholmes.com/2017/12/07/interview-with-otherlife-screenplay-author-kelley-eskridge/) Anyway, I get it that I’m kind of a rough critic on mind job movies. And I saw through what they were doing, but I realized that that wouldn’t happen for others. I just wanted one more little bit of evidence selling me on the lie. But I’m glad that it worked for you. Such a better and more enjoyable experience I’m sure. WAIT WHAT?!?! hahah. I prefer to be duped by movies. Like the movie Shimmer Lake? I was completely caught off guard. Totally surprised me with that ending. It was sold so perfectly. But others have told me they guessed it right away. So it just depends.

      Thanks again for the comment and for hanging out here. Let me know right away if you find a movie that might fit well here on the site!
      Taylor

      Reply
    • Kelley

      Hi Rich, all of us at OtherLife are delighted that we fooled you 😉 and you are not a sucker! We did try hard to make it believable, although as discussed above I agree that we could have done it better.

      As for the third act breakout (after Sam puts Ren back into OtherLife), I have honestly never been entirely satisfied with any of the solutions that came up in any of the screenplay drafts. It’s such an internal moment – she realizes that she was editing her experience the whole time she was out of her cell, and that she can do it again – that she doesn’t have to be trapped in the cell simulation. In various drafts, I tried to visualize this moment in all kinds of ways, some very quiet and some very big (actually kicking through walls and etc). I’m still not sure what I would do if given another go at it… but it’s interesting (to me, anyway 🙂 to think about, and it’s all good learning for future scripts/films.

      Thanks for watching!

      Reply

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