I watched Possible Worlds because of Tilda Swinton and this logline on IMDb: “A man lives in parallel worlds, falling in love with the same woman, while the police hunt down a serial killer who steals brains.” That sounds pretty amazing.
This movie is that logline, but it’s very much not as poppy as its description (which reminds of, say, the stealing brains of Heroes). This is closer to something like Lost Highway in its noir riffing and deadpan delivery. There’s plenty of both of those. But Possible Worlds also feels like a bunch of films mashed into one original whole – Eraserhead, Blind Chance, Je t’aime je t’aime, The Future. I love all of those movies more than I love Possible Worlds, but Robert Lepage’s film certainly has something.
Swinton plays Joyce opposite Tom McCamus’ George Barber. They meet in various lifes – well, actually he pursues her through various lifes.
For all of its philosophical musings, Possible Worlds is also hilarious. Part of that stems from the aforementioned deadpan, but there’s also plenty of intentional confusion. There’s a police officer who’s totally lost, some wacky science-fiction-
-and a particularly hilarious section about the loss of language.
As if I need to pack more David Lynch comparisons into one post…Swinton here belongs to the dual performances that we see in Mulholland Drive and 3 Women. She starts off surprisingly flat. But that’s entirely intentional and her role is full of the nuance we’ve come to expect from such a great actor.
I don’t mean to say that Lepage is a Lynch knockoff. He’s not as far as I can tell from this film (which really makes me want to investigate his filmography more). But I think the comparisons are fairer than maybe the more typical “it’s confusing and eerie and oddly structured so it must be a Lynch homage.”
One of the great things about Possible Worlds is Lepage’s transitions. They remind me a bit of what Park Chan-wook has done in a lot of his films. This transition starts in wideshot as two cops examine evidence. A bath of photographic chemicals occupy the foreground. Lepage cuts in to their POV and starts tilting and dollying slowly forward. Shot #3 below – if it isn’t clear – shows the items floating in water:
The scene continues, now just in the CU dolly. It still feels like a POV, albeit a very slow one. That these things are all floating is pretty nonsensical, but it’s visually beautiful and the wide shot has in some way justified it:
A man – George – appears at the top of that last frame. Lepage continues his camera movement, now with a bit more of a tilt. The watery ripples continue and then suddenly solidify. The surface has inexplicably changed from liquid to solid. George’s reflection is perfectly clear:
The transition completes with the tilt up to the new character and a new space:
This is one of the best in the film, but there are other similar examples. It certainly makes the movie more dreamlike and playful. It’s consistent with the narrative theme of morphing spaces and people.