Friday, October 02, 2020

The Mandela Effect (2019)

Memory isn’t particularly reliable.  Witness testimony is considered the least-reliable form of evidence.  How many people get facts wrong?  You can have ten people tell the same story ten different ways.  This makes it surprising that people will sometimes misremember something the same way.  Take, for instance, the Monopoly man.  Lots of people swear that he has a monocle when he doesn’t or that Curious George has a tail which doesn’t exist.  This is the basis for The Mandela Effect, a phenomenon that takes its name from the fact that people seem to think that Nelson Mandela died in prison in the 1980s.

The movie starts with parents Brendan and Claire at the beach with their daughter, Sam.  She goes down by the ocean and follows her stuffed Curious George doll (with a tail) into the water.  Cut to the grieving parents.  Claire is able to move past Sam’s death relatively well, but Brendan becomes obsessed.  He starts noticing details that don’t match up, like a photo that he thinks was taken somewhere else.

This leads him to Dr. Roland Fuchs, who has theories similar to Brendan.  Roland thinks that the universe is a computer simulation, much like the Matrix.  He proposes an idea.  Roland has access to a quantum computer.  If they can use it to run the right program, maybe they can crash the simulation, or at least get some cracks to show.

Two things happen.  One, Sam works her way back into reality.  Brendan is overjoyed, but Claire starts to lose it.  On a subconscious level, she knows it’s wrong.  The second is that Roland is removed from reality.  When Brendan goes back to visit, Roland has suddenly be dead two weeks.  This means that Brendan is on his own.

The movie is somewhere between The Matrix and The Thirteenth Floor, only without the metaphysical depth.  Both of those movies took a harder look at what it meant to be in a simulation.  What was real?  What was fake?  Did it even matter?  This is more about Brendan not really being paranoid.

Even the disappearance of Roland and the reappearance of Sam are glossed over.  If Roland was dead for two months, than who or what did Brendan speak to?  What does it mean to be sentient or alive?  For that matter, why is Brendan the only one to be fully conscious of what’s going on?

The movie takes a psychological phenomenon and runs with it, but not very far.  The actual Mandela effect is relatively easy to explain.  Something like changing the Berenstain Bears to Berenstein is understandable.  Stein is a relatively common ending to surnames.  It would make sense that a lot of people would make that mistake.  Even thinking that the peanut butter brand is Jiffy is easy.  There is a word ‘jiffy’ and a brand called Skippy.  This doesn’t mean that there are parallel universes or computer simulations.

I will admit that it’s an interesting idea.  What if we live in a simulation?  It’s not even clear if the simulation is trying to protect itself or if there’s a higher power at work.  You might think that ambiguity might be nice.  Who needs all the answers?  I didn’t even feel like the movie went that route.  We’re not left with an ending that could go either way.  It felt more like the movie had an ending if for no other reason that we had to have an ending.  Brendan had to do something to resolve the story, so that’s what happened.  There was a lot of wasted potential here.

IMDb page

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