While Haddaway basically ruined the phrase, “What is love”, it’s still a valid question. Scientifically, there’s no basis for explaining it beyond any other feeling: chemical reactions in the brain caused by external stimuli. How romantic. Perhaps it’s simply a veneer we put over our biological imperative to reproduce. Human sexuality always seems a little bit nicer with flowers and a Hallmark card. The question of “love”—where it comes from and what it means—is incredibly difficult to untangle, but Kristina Buozyte‘s Vanishing Waves uses a simple but effective sci-fi premise to create a powerful, moving, challenging, and brilliant exploration of love’s origins and power to endure.
Lukas (Marius Jampolskis) is a researcher working on a double-blind experiment that will allow him to explore the consciousness of a coma patient. His head adorned with neural nodes, Lukas goes into a sensory deprivation tank, and begins to journey into the mind of the patient. At first, all he sees are the neural pathways, but on his second trip, he meets a beautiful woman (Jurga Jutaite) and the two almost immediately begin having sex. Every time Lukas goes under, their intimacy, both sexual and non-sexual, grows deeper. Despite the risks to his career and real-world relationship, Lukas begins an investigation to find the identity of the comatose patient.
Buozyte has created a wonderful mix of genres with Vanishing Waves. It’s science fiction, it’s a mystery, and it’s a psychosexual drama. But above all, it’s a love story. It’s not a simple love story by any stretch, but it’s one that perfectly balances the emotional with the intellectual. Vanishing Waves raises some mind-bending questions regarding the nature of love, and it has no easy answers for the audience. However, it’s philosophizing never comes off as cold or clinical because we’re completely sold on the relationship between Lukas and the woman. Their emotions are the only lifeline we have in the strange dream space between them.
The shared mind can’t quite be described as surreal, although it’s certainly a bit of a trip. Buozyte hasn’t created a world where we’re constantly caught off guard. Instead, she has formed what Lukas says resembles a “lucid dream”, although his actions within the dream aren’t completely lucid. The scenes between Lukas and the woman truly feel dreamlike as opposed to a reconstruction of reality or some aggressively bizarre fantasy land. There’s dream logic and movement in play, and while the external world almost has the feeling of a gritty thriller with Lukas’ investigation, the dreams are almost like a deep pool where we’re asked to slowly wade into some truly strange moments.
Recently, sci-fi tends to carry the connotation of something clean and advanced. Buozyte goes the other direction and shows us something trippy, primal, and dangerous. The film will go on long stretches where we can tell that neither Lukas nor the mysterious patient have any firm control on their behavior, and as an audience, it’s almost like watching animals at the zoo. Most of their communication is non-verbal, and their behavior can be primitive. But they never become so strange as to become foreign. The context and tone are always clear even if the settings and character actions are off-kilter.
Vanishing Waves will likely be off-putting to those who aren’t willing to engage it through the long dream stretches where the momentum slows down, and we’re left wondering how the scene will proceed when neither character seems to have complete control of their actions. It’s a subconscious connection and that’s where the love lies in Buozyte’s film. Lukas and the comatose patient have never met, and yet their psyches become linked by a powerful bond that is incredibly complex. It’s filled with sexual attraction, guilt, jealousy, desire, and sacrifice. Vanishing Waves invites us not only to ponder love, but more importantly, to marvel at its ineffable and sublime existence.
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