Jared Moshe’s Aporia is yet another sci-fi film dealing with time travel, and the ramifications of messing around with it. But unlike many others that use this particular premise, and we’ve seen a few of them already this year, Moshe’s film is a thoughtful consideration of grief and the lengths we’ll go to get beyond it. There are no superheroics here, just ordinary people trying to do what’s right and finding that often no good deed goes unpunished. What’s striking is how little of the typical genre conventions are present, making for a refreshing, emotionally complex take on a familiar idea.
We should be past the point of acting as if Judy Greer is known only for her comedy. Her dramatic skills have long been revealed to be her true strength. She carries Aporia as Sophie Rice, a recent widower whose husband Malcolm (Edi Gathegi) was killed by a drunk drive months earlier. Since then, she and her daughter Riley (Faithe Herman) have become unmoored. The film opens with a touching memory between Sophie and Mal, showing how easily they get along and well they fit together.
It’s just a sad flashback, however. The reality is that Sophie can barely keep it together. Burdened by work and mounting bills, she also deals with the killer’s court trial and the weakness of the justice system. Worse still, Riley is suddenly struggling in school, bullying others, and openly showing disgust of her mother.
At the heart of Aporia is a very simple question. If you could bring a loved one back from the dead, would you do it? But Moshe offers a twist on this because something so extraordinary should be so easy. What if you had to kill another person for your loved one to return? You can see how things could get complicated quickly because that’s the situation Sophie is faced with when family friend Jabir (Payman Maadi) makes her an offer. A refugee from a dictatorial country where his entire family was murdered, Jabir arrived in America and became best friends with Malcolm, both physicists who bonded over their scientific gifts. Those gifts, it turns out, led to the creation of a time machine, one that could bring Mal back into Sophie’s life…at the cost of the man who caused his death.
In most time travel movies we are happy to ignore the details because they muddy things up and ruin our enjoyment. But with Aporia, we’re made to want to know as much as possible. A big part of the reason is the homegrown nature of the device itself, which looks like it was put together with laundry machine parts and baling wire. We barely expect the thing to work; and in fact, it appears to have failed before Malcolm turns up acting as if nothing ever happened.
The real reason we get so invested is the film’s focus on the emotional complexities caused by use of the machine. Sophie has to contend with telling Malcolm what really happened to him, and then there’s what he’ll do once he finds out. Going deeper, the characters tangle with using the device to affect greater change for good. A compelling subplot involves Sophie’s effort to help the widow and daughter of the drunk driver who killed Malcolm, as their family has also fallen into tragedy.
Aporia follows these normal, grieving people as they make one compromise after another, without fully comprehending the impact. Of course, all of these changes to the timeline have a disastrous snowballing effect, but the film doesn’t give in to wild displays of action or visual effects. Aporia stays perfectly low-key and grounded, with Greer giving one of her finest performances as a mother and wife just trying to do what’s right for her family in the face of overwhelming sorrow. Gathegi, always such a soulful, expressive actor, is perfectly cast as Greer’s husband Malcolm. Even when he’s not on screen his presence lingers, and we feel the depth of Sophie’s loneliness without him.
Exploring moral questions with an intricacy rarely seen from the genre, Aporia is a welcome breath of fresh air and a showcase role for Judy Greer. While the final frame leaves us hanging with an unsatisfying fade-to-black, it does little to diminish truly rewarding sci-fi that leaves us with a lot to ponder.
Aporia opens in theaters on August 11th.