Now Streaming: Mnemophrenia (2019)-Reviewed

As we hurdle faster and faster towards the future, the question of our ability to process the staggering advancements in technology has become more pertinent than ever. Are we really sure what exactly we're doing to ourselves as we stare at screens every day? It's something that I freak myself out about in the precious few moments I'm able to pry my eyes away from my phone. The advancement of technology and particularly, what it means for humanity is a staple of Sci-Fi. it's something that the genre is always asking and the answers are always evolving. Because every piece of fiction comes from the author's perspective, biases either for or against the piece of technology it's examining will inevitably creep in. We rarely see an academic debate in the form of a film. 

Until Mnemophrenia.

Making her feature debut, filmmaker and scholar Eirini Konstantinidou presents the debate around Virtual Reality as a fictionalized triptych centered on three generations of a family. Each member of this family, Jeanette (Freya Berry), Nicholas (Robin King) and Robyin (Tallulah Sheffield) are all dealing with a new psychosis, Mnemophrenia, brought on by continuing advancements in VR. 

Mnemophrenia, as an opening title card tells us is "a condition or state characterized by the coexistence of real and artificial memories, which affects the subject's sense of identity." What's fascinating about Konstaninidou's approach is that because she's an academic, she never frames any story with any bias. Each segment is shown as is, with the debates around the psychosis both evolving as the film progresses and given room to be discussed by every side imaginable. What's even more fascinating is that as she takes us on a philosophical journey through time, we get to see the ways in which society can deny, compromise and then accept new thoughts and technology.  

In the earliest segment following Jeanette, we witness the first conversation around Mnemophrenia. Jeanette is slowly coming to terms with the fact that an affair she thought she had was instead the product of false memories. The man she thought she loved never existed and she's in a support group trying to understand the devastating mix of feelings she has. Here, the conversation is primarily centered around trying to "cure" the psychosis. 

Jumping further into the future, we meet Jeanette's grandson Nicholas, founder of Memofilms: Total Cinema. Here, he's trying to weaponize his Mnemophrenia as a tool for the next step of VR.  We see the conversation shift to the ethics of using one's psychosis for profit. The world has slowly shifted to accepting Mnemophrenia as potentially useful but now corporate interests are swooping in to prey upon it. 

In the final and perhaps most impressive push forward, we find a descendent of this family, Robyin, suffering from a deadly illness. As she approaches death, her goal is to record her memories and use them as a building block for people to understand and accept death. Here, we've perhaps reached the utopia where Mnemophrenia is concerned. We're no longer trying to cure it or fighting over its profitability, instead we've come full circle. Humanity is evolving and false memories are now seen as new tools to help people cope with the unimaginable. It's a bold direction for the film to take but one that's ultimately necessary. It's important to show this because many ideas that scare us often become the new normal within a generation or two. It's here that Konstantinidou maybe presents her own bias as well, marking the only time she does so, as she's looking at a world that's embracing the unknown. 

I don't think I've ever seen a narrative film take this approach. Most futuristic sci-fi has an air of menace around the technology (or technologies) present in its universe. Konstantinidou's three stories all have moments of strife and conflict but the focus is less on taking a side and more on allowing a conversation to be had. It's a bit intimidating at first because you're entering the world of academia when you watch Mnemophrenia. By pushing forward without an authorial point of view, Konstantindou throws you in the deep end almost immediately and runs the risk of alienating viewers, especially ones who are used to a more didactic style of storytelling. 

Thankfully, her style is never cold or remote, both impressive as she's telling a future tech story by way of academic debate. She imbues her characters with so much warmth and her environments with so much life that you can't help but be pulled into the world she's created. Each setting takes place deeper in the future and it's kind of astonishing what she's able to do with such a small budget. Using every cent, she never overwhelms you either. The second segment featuring Nicholas, takes place in his studio. It's essentially a living studio and there's always information (graphs, brainwaves, internet searches) on the screen, it's an astonishing bit of storytelling that only enhances the experience. You're seeing the world through the eyes of a computer and it goes a long way to making the world believable. In the third segment, it's the costuming and set dec that does the work for us. Using a color palette of bright whites and muted grays and baggy, almost robe-like costuming, Konstantinidou accentuates her future world just enough to make this a logical extension of our own world. She clearly has an eye for detail and it's the smallest ones that make the largest impact.

Mnemophrenia is a fascinating and stimulating experience and one that will only reward upon further rewatches as we continue to advance. With an enthralling mix of documentarian and narrative styles, Eirini Konstantinidou announces herself as a bold new voice to the world of Sci-Fi. Boasting the academic cred to back herself up, it's going to be exciting to see where her expansive mind takes us next. For now, though, Mnemophrenia is a challenging, exciting and most importantly entertaining journey of the human mind via artificial intelligence. It's a journey well worth taking and one that I suspect will become increasingly relevant as time goes on.

-Brandon Streussnig