Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures

How would you feel if you could no longer trust your own memories?

Memory is a vital part of who we are. It defines our past and shapes our future. Memory is at the center of every story, every journey, every lesson. Without memory, we would be condemned to a life ruled by chaos and confusion. Just imagine having to re-learn that fire is hot or food is necessary. So when something threatens our memory, we tend to get a little nervous. Even so, memory is profoundly fallible. Two people can experience the same thing and walk away with totally different versions of the truth. Knowing that, can we ever say for certain that there is one objective reality?

David Guy Levy explores these questions in the new film THE MANDELA EFFECT with mind-bending results. 

In the film, Brendan (the excellent Charlie Hofheimer) is struggling to deal with the tragic death of his young daughter, Sam. He and his wife, Claire (Aleksa Palladino), have taken a break from work, but not matter what he tries or where he goes, his loss haunts him.

One day, while looking through the books in Sam’s well-preserved room, Brendan makes an unsettling discovery. As he pulls down one of Sam’s favorites off the shelf, he’s greeted with the title The Berenstain Bears. And yet, Brendan knows that those books were titled The Berenstein Bears

Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures

Confused and more than a little weirded out, Brendan asks his brother-in-law, Matt (Robin Lord Taylor), if he remembers the name of the popular bear family. Matt confirms he always thought it was Berenstein too, but what does it matter?

To some, Brendan tells him, it matters a great deal. It’s called the Mandela Effect–when large groups of people remember something happening one way only to discover later that their memory is wrong. In some instances the event/name/place is just different, in others, it never happened at all.

Brendan is seeing them everywhere now. The photo on the refrigerator shows his family on a vacation they didn’t take. The peanut butter is JIF now instead of JIFFY. Even Curious George has lost his tail. Something is going on.

Could these moments of incongruity really just be false memories? Or could they be proof of parallel worlds? And if there are parallel worlds, couldn’t that mean Sam is alive in one of them?

THE MANDELA EFFECT is the perfect example of how to blend genres to create something fresh. Writers Levy and Steffen Schlachtenhaufen placed a sci-fi premise into the world of a thriller, and what came out the other side was a story equal parts psychological and existential.

Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures

This same attention to genre and detail can be seen in Levy’s camera, which takes a clean, almost clinical, approach to capturing Brendan’s journey for most of the film. Without an overly editorial visual perspective, we’re left to make our own decisions. Is this a man who is losing touch with reality or finally finding it? 

But don’t let that clean camera work fool you. From a shadowy figure that disappears when you turn on the lights to a delicate crack that only shows up at the worst times, this is a film filled with creepy imagery that will stick with you.

A movie like this made or broken in its casting, and here again, THE MANDELA EFFECT shines. Charlie Hofheimer (Black Hawk Down, The Village) made it look easy to play a man trapped in a spiral, questioning his own reality; while Aleksa Palladino (“Boardwalk Empire”, “Halt and Catch Fire”) played the perfect counterpoint as the grieving, grounded wife.

I have to give a nod to Robin Lord Taylor (“Gotham”, Accepted) and Clarke Peter (“The Wire”, John Wick) who breathe so much life into their supporting roles, as well. This story may largely be about one man, but it’s the supporting performances that give this topsy turvy film its empathy.

Making a movie about a conspiracy theory is no easy feat. THE MANDELA EFFECT balances deep emotion and heady concepts to deliver a thriller that will keep you hooked until the very end. Check it out in theaters and on VOD on December 6, 2019.

Adrienne Clark
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