Measured and glossy, Reversion has just enough violence to be termed a “thriller”. At the same time, Jose Nestor Marquez’s science fiction film develops a sense of menace, imagining a near future where technology determines experience.
At first, this technology assumes a commercial form. We meet Sophie (Aja Naomi King) and her father Jack (Colm Feore), a neuroscientist and tech mogul, as they’re planning for the imminent launch of their new gadget, Oubli. A discreet earpiece that could be mistaken for jewelry, with its matching app, Oubli allows users to relive in vivid detail their most treasured memories. Reversion doesn’t bother too much with explanations of how this might work, but it transpires that over-use of the device has a significant side effect.
Reversion’s tech firm recalls, of course, Apple, in its slick, theatrical product launches, its narrative advertising, and the intuitive “feel” of its merchandise. Even Jack, trim, vigorous, and secretive, suggests Steve Jobs. With these allusions and several plot points, Reversion offers an obvious critique of our tech-dependent lives and corporate systems, as well as the idea that we might seek comfort, inspiration, and fulfillment of emotional needs from our devices. The OS-human romance Her has already posited this problem, but unlike Spike Jonze’s film, which might be described as quirkily sweet, Reversion has hard edges.
These edges are not subtle. It’s apparent early that Sophie isn’t as she appears, our suspicions encouraged by striking wide shots that repeatedly place her only just in frame. We imagine undercurrents of something uncontrolled and dangerous in Sophie, beneath the clean, reflective surfaces surrounding her. Indeed, we learn that she’s haunted by the suicide of her mother and feeling lonely, her every interaction related to her job or mediated by her father.
When Sophie puts off the advances of a man in a bar with a gentle but also shocking rebuttal, she jolts him out of his self-assurance. Their exchange also hints at a casual destructiveness that Sophie’s moneyed poise can’t mask. She doesn’t just reject him, but delivers a dose of existential terror,
The plot turns increasingly disordered. Once Sophie leaves the bar, a staged car crash separates her from her loyal driver and bodyguard Ayden (Gary Dourdan). Soon enough, she’s abducted by a mysterious woman (Jeanette Samano), who’s seeking the code to turn off an implant placed in her brain without her consent. Here, Reversion borrows from conspiracy theories, as well as spectacular mad science and body horror, all aspects of a layperson’s perception of neuroscience as a process of prodding at the brain. This perception remains incendiary in an age when the fear of science still has real consequences. (Just Google “Anti-Vaxxer,” “Big Pharma” or “global warming” to see such consequences in real-world action.)
It’s hardly surprising then, that Jack’s motives for developing the technology may not be altogether benign. Like all classic sci-fi, Reversion‘s central conceit springs from contemporary social and political concerns. The thematic focus shifts from a familiar anxiety about new technology to an exploration of the difficulties of maintaining bodily autonomy, and also of the medicalization of socially unacceptable impulses. The movie poses the question: is it ever ethical to fundamentally alter someone’s sense of self, tied up in memory, in order to protect them from themselves? If so, who decides this?
Reversion also ponders the risk in our need to escape into nostalgia. Oubli, it appears, does not allow users to relive negative memories, as these are not deemed beneficial. The movie concludes that in shielding ourselves from our worst memories, something essential must be lost, recalling ongoing media wrangles about an infantilized society wanting and also worried about trigger warnings.
Reversion provides few answers to the questions it raises. Still, its pleasingly diverse, female-led cast delivers strong, affecting performances, unforced. While the ideas are less nuanced, they are intriguing.