A Sci-Fi Moral Dilemma Gives Judy Greer Grief in Aporia

Movies Reviews Judy Greer
A Sci-Fi Moral Dilemma Gives Judy Greer Grief in Aporia

Build a relationship, a home, a family, a life with the person you love over the years, and you will still occasionally give them The Look, the one that says, “who are you, and how well do I know you?” It’s the look Sophie (Judy Greer) gives her husband, Mal (Edi Gathegi), partway through Jared Moshe’s Aporia, when through the miracle of technology she puts the wrong things right and effectively brings him back from the grave. 

Mal starts out the film in the ground, seen only in flashbacks to better days before getting struck by Darby (Adam O’Byrne), a drunk driver, and dying. Sophie consequently starts out a wreck, screwing up left and right at work and receiving apathy (at best) and scorn (at worst) from her daughter Riley (Faithe Herman). Everything is bad, nothing is good, and all Sophie wants is for Mal to be there somehow, telling her she’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. Then comes Jabir (Payman Maadi), a family friend and erstwhile physicist from an unidentified country who makes a living in America driving indifferent fares around town. Jabir has a remedy for Sophie’s grief, but it’s a doozy both existentially and ethically, in the tradition of so much science fiction cinema.

Jabir has built a device one could generously call a “time machine” the way one could call a hellfire missile “demolition equipment.” It can’t send Sophie back in time, but it can send a burst of quantum-mechanical energy straight into Darby’s brain and kill him, before the day he kills Mal, which means Mal never dies and Sophie’s life doesn’t fall apart. Presented with her personal version of the ultimate time travel question – would you kill baby Hitler? – Sophie dithers, then pulls the trigger. The good news is, Mal is back, and everything’s back to normal. The bad news is, Darby has a family, Sophie has a conscience, and one morally suspect decision leads to a whole bunch of better-intended ones with their own imperfect outcomes. 

Aporia holds Sophie’s sympathetic side in high regard and against her at the same time; resurrecting Mal starts off a snowball effect impacting Kara (Whitney Morgan Cox), Darby’s wife, and her daughter Aggie (Veda Cienfuegos), which Sophie can’t bring herself to ignore, which invites more temporal problems, which drive her, Mal, and Jabir to deliberate over what’s right in the context of altering the past all willy-nilly. A classic fixation of science fiction is conference over the application of new, untested technology, with particular focus on what might go right and what might go wrong; Aporia fits snugly into that tradition with a loose, handheld sensibility, putting the viewer on the same uncertain and unmoored ground as Moshe’s characters.

Think of the machine as the monkey’s paw: Wish away, but be careful what you wish for, and also, no matter how careful you are, something significant will break anyway. Greer, in one of her too-infrequent starring roles, plays to Sophie’s anxieties as well as her wants all at once, a tight-wound ball of nerves. Every time she disperses her tension, every time she talks with Mal and Jabir about disaster scenarios, the tension whips right back around like a boomerang, and she starts her emotional cycle all over again. It’s a performance that suits Greer’s reputation for playing unhinged types, reminding viewers that her reputation as a comic actor is built on a well-rounded skill set. Sophie’s pipes intermittently burst from stress of knowing why her world keeps changing, as the people she’s changing it for stay ignorant. It’s a huge burden to bear.

Gathegi and Maadi wear their own strain, too, suffering it in their own ways. You’d feel differently about the machine if you were the first person it retroactively saved from death’s grasp; you’d also feel differently about it if you were the one who invented it, and if you, too, had a dead family you’d give anything to have back. But Aporia is so much Sophie’s story that her concerns take top priority, which could read as a dicey choice. But the film isn’t punishing Sophie for the basic wish to spare Mal. It is instead answering the central question of Moshe’s script, the same one at the core of Sophie, Mal, and Jabir’s workshopping sessions: What if? 

If Aporia’s airiness gives the story a bit of distance from the world we’re living in right now, the film nonetheless does what good science fiction is supposed to, forcing viewers to bring the future conundrums it raises to their present. Moshe is a gentle filmmaker, evinced by his realist aesthetic, unadorned by special effects, and his intrinsic compassion for Sophie’s dilemma. He cares. But he is necessarily stern, because for a movie like Aporia to work, a director has to mean what they’re saying, and he holds little back. Moshe asks us to accept how trivial reactions to technology’s use are actually enormous for his characters, which fits Aporia’s narrative. In the grand scheme of things, bumping off a reckless alcoholic isn’t so bad. On a smaller scale, it is. Our actions matter, big or small, and now’s a good time for the sci-fi genre to give us a needed reminder.

Director: Jared Moshe
Writer: Jared Moshe
Starring: Judy Greer, Edi Gathegi, Payman Maadi, Faithe Herman, Whitney Morgan Cox, Veda Cienfuegos, Adam O’Byrne
Release Date: August 11, 2023

Bostonian culture journalist Andy Crump covers the movies, beer, music, and being a dad for way too many outlets, perhaps even yours. He has contributed to Paste since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected work at his personal blog. He’s composed of roughly 65% craft beer.

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