Aporia, Jared Moshé
Photo: DDAPR

Director Jared Moshé on Sci-fi Film Aporia’s Moral Ambiguity

Following Aporia’s world premiere at Fantasia, director Jared Moshé talks about leaving his audience grappling with moral ambiguity.

Jared Moshé
Fantasia International Film Festival
July 2023

Jared Moshé’s 2023 sci-fi film Aporia represents a departure for the director, leaving behind the mythological space of the American West in 2012’s Dead Man’s Burden and 2017’s The Ballad of Lefty Brown for modern-day urban Los Angeles. Aporia’s drama begins when overworked single mother Sophie (Judy Greer) discovers her late husband, Mal’s (Edi Gathegi) best friend Jabir (Payman Maadi), a former physicist, has invented a machine that can fire a bullet into the past and eliminate a specific person. He proposes to use it to save Mal by killing the drunk driver responsible for the fatal accident. This is the beginning of a series of moral choices as the trio grapples with the consequences of possessing the powerful, life-altering machine. 

Moshé’s sophomore feature made a lasting impression that – alongside my affection for the western genre – motivated my interest to speak with him about his metamorphosis between two distinct types of storytelling. Speaking with Moshé days after the World Premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival, he acknowledges the stylistic difference between Aporia and, in particular, his sophomore feature.

The Ballad of Lefty Brown was inspired by John Ford and Sam Peckinpah,” says Moshé, “whereas Aporia is a sci-fi film, inspired by Shane Carruth’s Primer [2004] and then Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine [2010].” These influences seem worlds apart, but that suggests Moshé’s willingness to explore his creative range. Aporia, however, is less of a departure and more a spatial reimagining of the themes and ideas that interest the director. 

“Where the crossover comes is both films use the tropes of a genre to tell a very human story, and hopefully allow audiences to see outsiders in different ways.” He explains, “Lefty was the outsider in his crew – the sidekick everyone laughed at, and no one took seriously. No one really believed in him except for Johnson (Peter Fonda). It’s about the guy who never wanted to be a hero becoming the hero and looking at this outsider character, all those sidekicks from the John Wayne and John Ford westerns, through a new lens.” 

Aporia, too is about outsiders,” he continues. “The time machine wasn’t built by billionaires in Beverly Hills. This is a Rube Goldberg contraption that looks more likely to burn down the building than anything else”, he remarks with self-deprecating humility. “It’s made from junk scavenged around Los Angeles, and it’s built by a guy who works as an Uber driver. It’s in the least interesting apartment in a neighbourhood you’d cut through on your way to work. Our heroes are living month-to-month. They’re the outsiders. Aporia puts the camera on people you least expect.” 

Alongside the affection for those classic westerns, Aporia’s tactile machine, created by production designer Ariel Vida, reconnects with the hands-on approach of world-building in George Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy (1977-1983), and especially Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future (1985). Aporia’s machine being built in an LA home echoes Back to the Future‘s Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) rebuilding the DeLorean in his garage. 

“I’m drawn to the tactile side of sci-fi and building things in the real world”, explains Moshé. “One of the things about the original Star Wars is it feels dirty. The planet of Tatooine feels like a real, dirty place. The Mos Eisley cantina in the film – you can feel the physicality of it. The actors wear rubber masks, but everything has a realistic grime. That’s why it feels so jarring when George Lucas did those changes to Star Wars in the late ’90s because there’s a lack of weight to many of the digital effects.”

“When you’re watching a Mission: Impossible movie and Tom Cruise’s character is hanging off something, either you understand the physics of that, or those movies do. You’ll watch another movie, and the camera is thrown off the car, and it’s spinning, and you’re thinking, ‘This is supposed to be real, but it’s definitely not.’ It makes the entire thing feel fake to me.” He adds, “It’s important an audience feels they’re in that moment; they’re living the experience. I wanted to embrace that immediacy with Aporia.”

Compared to the films we’re discussing, Aporia is an understated and intimate work. The central conceit of a machine that can change the past, however, is an established ‘big’ idea that leans into hefty themes. Throughout the story, the audience feels they’re in the escalating moments of ethical choices and their fallout. It might be Sophie, Jabir, and Mal making these choices, but Moshe in stealth mode, is interrogating his audience, asking them what they would do.

It effectively involves the audience, first in Jabir and Sophie’s decision to bring back Mal, then the repeated attempts of the trio to fix the unintended consequences. Aporia is a hypothetical exploration of whether people are responsible enough to possess a powerful, life-altering machine.

A scene late in Aporia sees a frustrated Mal tell Jabir that it was easier when they discussed the machine’s idea over a glass of wine. His words resonate with the audience, who by this point feel emotionally wrought, trapped inside the characters’ self-made prison – not of bricks and mortar, but cause and effect.

It’s a scene the director acknowledges he workshopped more than any other with Edi, who knew his character, Mal, would be grappling with the realities of the time machine’s effects. It’s a powerful moment where the hypothetical exploration is answered affirmatively for both the characters and the audience, and yet, there is still a part of us that wants to possess that power. 

As much as Moshé wants his audience to be “a fly on the wall of these experiences”, he readily admits there are limitations to what a filmmaker can do. Yet, even in such a moment in Aporia, we still remain part of what a character is experiencing. 

When Jabir explains to Sophie the science behind how his machine can assassinate a person in the past, understanding his explanation becomes unimportant, or at least that’s what I suggested to Moshé to cover up my scientific shortcomings. He tells me, “It’s funny you mention that because in the script, I have this big text of dialogue, and then I wrote a line of action that said, ‘If you don’t understand what he’s saying, it’s okay, Sophie doesn’t either.’ I wanted to permit the audience to be like, ‘It just doesn’t matter.’” He recalls, “It’s funny, as we were working on the film, Judy often asked me questions, and I’d say, ‘It’s alright, don’t worry about it. Your character is the one character who doesn’t have to understand the science behind it.'”

At this point in our conversation, Moshé expresses his appreciation of opera and ballet and how the audience’s imaginations are utilised when watching such performances. He mentions a makeshift ship in the background of a stage represented by only one pole of a sail and a brown floor, and you know where you are. “Your mind can fill in the gaps. You don’t need to be spoon-fed stuff.” He says, “Embrace your audience and trust them to figure that stuff out.”

If Aporia is about outsiders, then Sophie’s limited understanding of the science makes her the outsider in the trio. Still, when Sophie sees the driver who killed her husband in a drunken domestic dispute with his wife, she’s compelled to use the machine to save Mal. However, in the amended reality, the driver turns out to be a devoted husband and father whose death has a detrimental impact on his family. Her decision to “fix” the situation leads to other unpredictable events, and it’s here that Moshé embraces and trusts his audience to either figure it out, shift their attention to the ethical through-line of the drama, or simply experience the story’s emotion and humanity.

Drawing a comparison between film and staged productions, he observes how theatre has become more minimalist in certain ways because of a willingness to trust the audience more, unlike film, which has gone the opposite direction – spoon-feeding the audience seemingly everything, no matter how small the detail. Willingness to trust the audience is integral to Aporia, a story about choices and their wider implications. It’s about the moral dilemma of having God-like power and asks its audience to contemplate – not judge – Sophie, Mal, and Jabir’s moral choices that not only change their lives but have unforeseen consequences for the lives of others. 

Moshé doesn’t want to give his audience easy answers because there are no easy answers. “It’s very important to me that the audience understands there isn’t a right choice,” he says. “I’m not saying their choices are right or wrong, but these are the choices these characters choose and embrace. Morality isn’t black and white; it’s grey, and these types of films allow people to consider what they would do in such a circumstance.”

It’s difficult to judge Sophie, Mal, and Jabir when they seek to pry from death’s grip those they love. It may be Jabir’s story that is most affecting, an immigrant whose family was killed by the National Guard when he was only a boy. After building a new life in America, he still grieves the loss. He confides in Sophie that the reason he built the machine is to save his family, and it can also bring back his friend, Sophie’s husband, and her 12-year-old daughter, Riley’s (Faithe Herbert) father. This motivation effectively teases the potential for Jabir to go rogue, who is more willing to justify using the machine, for example, to prevent a school shooting, in opposition to Sophie and Mal’s caution. 

Moshé subtly infers through Jabir’s body language and verbal reasoning that he could become the archetypal scientist who loses his mind to his creation. That he doesn’t is of little importance. Our sympathy towards their motivations meets with the tragedy of being unable to live with the cost of life-altering choices. Aporia effectively suggests that we can be seduced out of the grey by either our angels or demons.   

Audiences at Fantasia asked Moshé if he would use the time machine if he had it. It’s a hard question to answer, and after some thought, he says, “I don’t think I would, but if I were going through what Sophie was going through in Aporia, that answer would be very different.” He adds, “The way our experience defines our reality; that’s something we worked on in this story.”

Aporia is not shy about embracing big ideas. When the story ends, it reminds us why the sci-fi drama genre has been effective – underpinning the themes and ideas with humanity. Whereas I phrase Aporia for building a crescendo, and rather than letting the journey reach the end, it leaves us with a feeling of incompleteness, Moshé describes the feeling Aporia leaves in its wake as, “The potential for satisfaction. The potential for what the ending could be.” 

“An ending that feels emotionally true to the characters is the most important thing,” he says. “The characters went on a journey and ended in a different place from where they began. We’ve succeeded if the audience can follow that journey and feel emotionally satisfied.”

“At the end of the day,” Moshé concludes, “even with all the science and power we have, all we are is a collection of memories. All we have are shared moments and experiences.”

Aporia had its World Premiere in the Cheval Noir Competition at the 2023 Fantasia International Film Festival. It had a limited US theatrical release on August 11, 2023, courtesy of Well Go USA.