Judge Gordon Sullivan's brain isn't just a sex organ—it's a Hammond organ too!
A hypnotic, erotic and riveting film.
Few plot devices seem to authorize as much visual invention as the idea of going inside a person's mind. Whether it's a character exploring their own headspace (Altered States) or one character entering another's mind (The Cell), illustrating mental landscapes and the sometimes-surreal connections the mind can make between elements. Of course, the main problem with such films is that they spend too much time constructing elaborate visual worlds and forget that they're telling a story. Vanishing Waves, from Lithuanian director Kristina Buozyte, sidesteps this problem providing contrast between the "real" world and a shared interior landscape. Though it won't be the most emotionally satisfying journey for some, Vanishing Waves has enough visual flair and hypnotic power for fans of sci-fi-inflected, visually focused cinema to appreciate.
Facts of the Case
The setup for Vanishing Waves is brutally simple: a scientist (Marius Jampolskis, Forest of the Gods) is chosen to enter another person's mind to see what can be gained from the patient's subconscious. The procedure, however, requires that he enter the mind of a someone in a coma. His orders are strict: go in, harvest information, avoid interacting with the patient's conscious self. That sounds fine to our scientist, Lucas, until it turns out that the mind he's entering is that of the attractive Aurora (Jurga Jutaite, Back in Your Arms). Lucas starts a sexual relationship with Aurora that he's forced to hide from his scientific colleagues as the gulf between his mental journeys and the real world continues to widen.
People often joke that the brain is the largest sex organ, but time and again the erotic in cinema is figured as all-but-anti-intellectual. We see sexy clothes, pulsing music, and eventually sweaty bodies. All thoughts of the mind vanish quickly in a tangle of flesh. Vanishing Waves takes a slightly different approach. Yes, there are plenty of bodies (and plenty of naked bodies) in the film, but this at least attempts to come to grips with a different kind of erotic cinema. In some ways, the film is entirely about what can't be shown—its entire conceit is that we can know the mind of another person, and that mind can be known through another set of visuals, ones that are unlike anything in the real world. It's a kind of metaphor for sexuality and how difficult it is to visualize desire.
Of course if you're not feeling that high-minded, Vanishing Waves is also a pretty competent erotic thriller. Our scientist Lukas meets and falls in love with Aurora and they eventually have fantastically visual sex. Of course, Lukas isn't supposed to be with her, and she would really like to get out of her coma. Thus, there's a tension between the desires of everyone involved: Will Aurora wake up from the extra stimulation? Will Lukas get caught?
Then, of course, there are the aforementioned visuals. Buozyte and her co-writer Bruno Samper have created an alternate world for the elaborate fantasies of Vanishing Waves, and they are a sight to behold. Alternately chilling and surreal, the locations form a backdrop for Lukas and Aurora that remains compelling, even if you care little about the story between them.
The worst thing that I can say about this two-disc set from Artsploitation is that I wish it were a Blu-ray release instead of DVD. The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is razor-sharp, with lots of detail in the sometimes psychedelic visuals. Colors skew towards the blue and the cool, but they're appropriately saturated. More importantly, black levels are consistent and deep with no serious compression artifacts to distract from the visuals. The Dolby Digital 5.1 (in Lithuanian) is similarly impressive. Though much of the film's credit will go towards the look, the soundscape is equally important. Dialogue is clean and clear, but more importantly the pulsing score moves through the surrounds, providing dimensionality and depth.
The set's extras shine as well. Director Kristina Buozyte seems to be on the rise (as I type this, she's slated for the second installment of The ABCs of Death), and Vanishing Waves is her third feature. Though Disc One in this set has only a few trailers on it, Disc Two starts by offering Buozyte's first feature, The Collector. The tale of a speech therapist coming to grips with her own emotional issues, it shares some thematic elements with Vanishing Waves. In addition, we get a short interview with Buozyte, who discusses her background. We then get a more traditional making-of featurette that mixes cast and crew interviews and on-set footage. In an underutilized feature, the second disc also offers eighteen selections from the film's soundtrack, with informational text that plays along with the music. Artsploitation's habit of including a generous booklet with interviews continues here. The booklet includes an interview with Buozyte and her co-screenwriter Bruno Samper, while the second is a shorter piece with Buozyte going solo. Artsploitation continues the tradition of reversible cover art, with a slightly more explicit version of the cover art available on the back of the DVD cover.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Vanishing Waves is not for everyone. The film obviously delves into the erotic, which is a turnoff for some (pun intended). It's also not a warm portrait of humanity. We watch an emotionally crippled man engage with a coma patient in a fractured landscape. There's something to be said for the contrast between the sterile atmosphere of the lab and the wonky world of the dreamscape, but it's possible the film would have been stronger either by staying inside Aurora's head or doing a bit more to blur the lines between Aurora's mind and Lukas'.
Vanishing Waves should make some waves of its own. It announces the international arrival of a talented filmmaker and anyone with an appreciation for international arthouse cinema and warped visuals will find something to appreciate. Add in a strong audiovisual presentation and a good set of extras, and this one is worth seeking out.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Artsploitation Films
• Bonus Film
Review content copyright © 2013 Gordon Sullivan; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.