In 1935, a really brainy guy came up with a thought experiment, which explores the concept of a creature simultaneously existing as both living and dead. Schrodinger developed the idea using hypothetical cats, but the theory can also extend to other organisms. In fact, over the last year and a half, the entire human population lived this paradox because at any given point any one of us could have, or not have, the Coronavirus. Even a negative test does not necessarily rule out a person because slow turn-around rates in medical labs sometimes prevent a person from finding out their results for several days. And while waiting for an answer they could (or could not) contract the disease. Only with a negative result does an individual know for sure where they stand with the virus. Using this concept, writer/directors Amir Ganjavie, Nasim Naghavi, and Alireza Kazemipour explore feelings of dread, frustration, and extreme isolation in the realm of a pandemic. Following a simple setting, small cast, and obeying all the pandemic restrictions, INTO SCHRODINGER’S BOX still delivers an engaging film that never makes it clear if the virus or people are the cause of Sophia’s mental decline.
The title of the film starts with the preposition INTO, meaning the characters (and audience) begin their descent once they enter ‘into’ the house. After a trip gets cut short due to COVID-restrictions, Sophia (Ada Shkalla) comes back to find her home suspiciously quiet and her husband in serious trouble. Collapsed on the floor while holding a bloody tissue and unable to breath, we see that Martin (Goeff Mays) needs help now! After taking Martin to the hospital with a suspected Covid diagnosis, Sophia gets the order to stay inside for the next two weeks and not to interact with anyone. Physical seclusion leaves Sophia in a quiet home with only her chores and the glow of her devices to keep her company. And even when she tries to reach out to her husband’s family, she encounters further isolation as the family blames her for Martin’s condition. So, during the day Sophia tries to live a normal life, but with each passing night, her shut-in surroundings become more sinister. Mysterious movements and shadowy figures now appear, but do they occupy the apartment? Or just Sophia’s mind?
Much of the talk about the long-term effects of COVID focuses on the physical damage to the lungs and senses, but not as much attention falls on the mental and emotional turmoil which comes from isolation and the threat of sickness or death. With Sophia trapped in her house, she becomes Schrodinger’s famous cat. She calls every day to find out if her worsening mental and physical condition is attributed to COVID, but every day she gets no definitive answer. The thought experiment focuses on how the outcome to the cat’s dilemma becomes known once a viewer observes the animal, but even with the audience observing Sophia, we are not sure if she is mental or sane. Or even alive or dead. Gaining glimpses into Sophia’s house also adds a sense of voyeurism to the viewer’s experience. Instead of witnessing another person’s house through the pandemic-era peephole that is Zoom, we get full access to Sophia’s private domain.
Cinematographer Pedro Miguez embraces the shadows and plays with the sizes and shapes of the various rooms to keep the private sphere of the house small and entombing. When Sophia takes refuge in a cramped bathroom or runs up and down a narrow staircase, the tight spaces add to the claustrophobic feel of the apartment and the main character’s life. And, at the center of all these cramped spaces, we find Shkalla who does a good job portraying a slow disconnect from reality. Throughout the film she displays shock, sadness, paranoia, frustration, and fear, so we want to side with Sophia, and at the same time distrust the few supporting characters.
For an indie film made in very limiting circumstances, the directors and writers pack in a lot of psychological discord. Did the virus wreak havoc on Sophia’s mind? Does she experience some kind of mental break due to being alone? Or is she prey to an elaborate act of gaslighting? As the story unfolds in INTO SCHRODINGER’S BOX, the viewer feels the same sense of confusion because, like Sophia, we have no idea what exists and what doesn’t.