Si Horrocks’ THIRD CONTACT: a Mind-Blowing Journey to Destinations (Un)known

Theatrical Poster for THIRD CONTACT - image source: Si Horrocks on Google Plus

Theatrical Poster for THIRD CONTACT – image source: Si Horrocks on Google Plus

The film was shot with a £4000 budget and was recently screened at the 46th Hofer Filmtage. We all know how difficult it is to find an audience for independent film-makers and how often film festivals are not enough. So what did this guy do? He successfully crowdfunded a UK premiere at the London BFI IMAX! That’s right, people! Now doesn’t that deserve some respect?

– Giuseppe’s Views on Films, 8 December 2013

At the 46th Hofer Filmtage, where Third Contact (2013) premiered, critic Thomas Rothschild praised it as “some kind of masterpiece.” Now that the film is out on VOD on VHX,tv (which also allows digital download), everyone can see and appreciate it. After my first full viewing of the movie last night, my response was a stunned, monosyllabic “Wow!”

Although this sounds trite and even a bit contrived, it is not. This dark, psychological, science-fiction mystery thriller not only riveted my attention to the screen for the entire 85 minutes of run-time, but it got into my unconscious mind. I know this because I have a particular, dissociated feeling of unreality after I watch films of this sort.

A little background will help to explain. I subscribe to what is known as the constructivist view of reading a text (not limited to a print books, but also including music, works of visual art, and — of course — films). The constructivist theory of learning — founded by such figures as Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, John Dewey, and Jerome Bruner, can be broken down roughly into two camps. Cognitive constructivism focuses on the mind of the learner and asserts that people learn by associating prior knowledge (PK) and experience with new facts and experiences. Social constructivism does not deny this view, but adds that knowledge is constructed through social experience — by interacting with others, particularly those who are more advanced in knowledge and experience.

I intend this long-winded digression to help explain my reaction to Third Contact. I worked in the mental health field for twenty years (though I recently retired to join the “high-paying fields” of follow my previous plans of teaching English and writing stories, as well as blogging about films and books). I have a background (or PK) that resonates with the story of lead character Dr. David Wright (Tim Scott-Walker). To throw in a little more intellectual stuff: Louise Rosenblatt’s transactional reader-response theory postulates that “readers” of “texts” (such as films) can respond to them anywhere on a continuum between the aesthetic (personal, emotional) and the afferent (rational, logical). With this film, my response skewed towards the aesthetic end of the spectrum more than it usually does.

David is clearly a burned-out therapist, a situation with which I can resonate. He is at least as depressed as his patients. His depression becomes worse as the movie progresses: he self-medicates, both with prescription meds and alcohol (he is, in fact, an alcoholic). He becomes suicidal. I did not go to these depths, although depression and anxiety were significant features of a certain season in my past. But how did David get there? Through flashback sequences, the film shows us the many regrets that David harbors.

Yet it turns out that how he got to his present is less important than where he wants to go in the future. The film opens with a blurred scene in which a man (presumably David) drives through the rainy streets of London while quotations from personal journals are read by a voice-over narrator. We are not yet able to understand the meaning and relevance of these reminiscences. Then, in a subsequent scene, a therapy session between David and Karl (Oliver Brown), , his patient, introduces the film’s major theme of “quantum suicide”:

 A physicist sits in a chair with a gun pointed at his head. The gun is attached to a machine that measures the spin of a quantum particle. Every time the trigger is pulled, the spin of the particle is measured. If the particle spins clockwise, the gun fires, killing the physicist. If the particle spins anti-clockwise, the gun won’t fire – there’ll only be a click.

This theme has a direct bearing on the third act of this film. This theory, with further explanation and taken to a certain extreme, implies the existence of parallel universes and the immortality of all sentient beings. Further information would lead to spoilers. It is safe to say, however, that first one patient, and then a second, Helen (Kristina Erdely), dies via suicide. David is driven to find out why these events happened, first with the ambivalent assistance of Erika (Jannica Olin), the sister of the first patient, and later on his own. His quest to solve the mystery is as much internal as external. What he finds when he finally makes his Third Contact is someone who will truly open his mind.

I have scanned many of the reviews of Third Contact out here in the blogosphere. The vast majority are positive. Some of the few that are negative fault the acting. I think that the major error in this judgement is that these reviewers are missing the fact that most of the characters are very depressed. Moreover, their environment is very depressing; it is not the Village of the Happy People. So what was perceived by a few as poor acting, I experienced as authentic portrayals of the range of depressed affect, including anhedonia (an inability to find pleasure in anything) and alexithymia (an inability to find the words to express one’s feelings).

This range of emotion illustrates another aspect of the genius of this film: it is shot (or rendered) mostly in black and white, although some of the flashback scenes are in color. This contrast supports the film’s dichotomy between the depression of the characters’ current state of existence and the happiness they seek (their “destinations”). The former world is presented in stark black and white (just as depressed people see the world in an all-or-nothing, black/white way — known in cognitive therapy as “dichotomous thinking”), while the latter are memories of fulfilling, happy days.

As mentioned above, this film will hold your attention with its action as it keeps you guessing with its psychological twists and turns. Its ending makes sense in a bittersweet way; it is not a “feel good” movie. But trust me: you will enjoy the journey.

FRISCO KID’s Rating: 10 out of 10 stars on IMDb

This film is not rated. It contains some violence, horror elements, and one scene of full male nudity (appropriate to the plot).