Let’s Chat About That Confusing Movie OtherLife

OtherLife is a good mindjob of a movie that does its best to twist and turn your brain inside out as it goes. IMDB
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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 from 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 Danny 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 flatlines. 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 she 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. They 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 keeping all the 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 front? 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 offended! 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.

Edited by, CY