Review: Philosophical Thriller 'After The Dark' Collapses Under A Nifty Concept

by Nikola Grozdanovic
February 3, 2014 7:06 PM
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If you've ever taken a philosophy class in high-school or university, then John Huddles' new film “After The Dark” is going to hook you within its first three minutes. Depending on whether you were completely bored or absorbed in this class will determine how much you'll connect to this movie, which plays out more like an adaptation of a philosophy student's first, second and final thesis paper draft than an original screenplay written by Huddles himself. If, on the other hand, you've never had the pleasure of learning about Socrates' endless questioning or Plato's allegories about caves you might walk away thinking that philosophy classes are actually like this. Please don't. The concept at work here is pretty great because it's one you can't help but want to see through to its end, but the third act derails everything into a nonsensical mash-up of rationale and emotion which spits and squashes any philosophical admirations this movie had to begin with. Imagine “After The Dark” as this version of the “train” dilemma that gets mentioned in the film: a train is headed towards two possible outcomes you control with a lever, it will crush five people or it could just crush one. If you don't pull the lever it will crush five. Now imagine that after some impassioned debating, you are convinced that the lever must be pulled only to find out that it doesn't work and five people are getting crushed regardless. The dilemma is rendered pointless and slightly insulting, much the same way we felt after watching “After The Dark.”

James D'Arcy is Eric Zimit, a philosophy professor in a Jakartan international school and he's teaching the final class of the year. After a few exchanges, it's evident that the class is compromised of highly intelligent philosophy students who fall between its best, Petra (Sophie Lowe) and worst, James (Rhys Wakefield), who are also something of an item. On the morning of their final class they are in bed whispering sweet nothings to each other but instead of waking him up for the same class they're going to, Petra tells him not to fall asleep again – which he does. This slightly off-balanced bit of unrealism ends up being a mere fraction of the numerous examples of illogical moments and instances scattered throughout the picture. After a handful of the students who will be in the forefront get their introductions, we get reminded of some popular philosophical debates and the fascinating discussions that arise from thinking about them; the “infinite” theory of the monkey and the typewriter, the dilemma of the train described above and the “infinite bliss” paradox. These examples serve as an intro to Mr. Zimit's final thought exercise which makes for much of the setting in “After The Dark,” compellingly taking place inside the minds of these students and their teacher.

The exercise set forth by the professor is one where the students are provided with random professions and the dilemma of having to choose just ten out of twenty-one for the purpose of restarting the human race after an atomic bomb decimates all life on earth (save for ten in a bunker). The setting becomes the ruins of Jakarta with atomic blasts in the distance coming ever closer, as the class debate on who stays and who goes. The professions range from carpenters, astronauts and organic farmers to opera singers and Gelato makers. With Mr. Zimit himself being the wild card, someone who knows something which may or may not be useful to the group's survival. After choosing the ten people, they have to live in this bunker for a full year before getting out; whether they survive this year with the ten chosen is the endgame of this mind game. It doesn't take a PhD in philosophy to know that carpentry is more useful towards the re-building of humanity than a harpist (without a harp no less, a clever observation) so the choice of the ten is quickly resolved and while there are some hilarious moments (one of the students randomly picks to be a poet, and he barely finishes announcing it before Mr. Zimit shoots him in the head —a brilliant moment) every one of the students appears to be taking this exercise with extreme seriousness. After some irrational decisions are made the movie gives the illusion of conclusion after the half hour mark, but it turns out that this was just the first round with two more to come. A well-played approach by Huddles for an unconventional cinematic exercise which serves to pull the viewer in even deeper, regardless of a few slip-ups along the way.

But everything falls apart rather quickly. After the second round of experimentation starts stretching the variables so much that they begin to tear, the complete rip by the end is like the monkey that ends up writing Hamlet after being given an infinite amount of time to tap away at the typewriter; inevitable. The performances from the actors don't hold the film above water – D'Arcy and Lowe are the only ones who even come off as professional actors while the rest may as well be philosophy students who randomly picked “actor” in order to participate in Hubbles' experimental movie. D'Arcy plays the professor well, with just the right amount of arrogance and quick-wit you'd expect, but his character's arc is such a cliched disappointment it almost ruins a perfectly decent performance. Lowe is something of a rising star in Australia, and was at one point considered by David Fincher to play Lisbeth Salander. However, her Petra is an irritating A+ know-it-all and her languid manner of line delivery gives off the impression that she's either incredibly bored or incredibly stoned.

We'd be able to give this movie a pass if it actually took its own original concept seriously, which is the biggest problem that “After The Dark” perpetuates. The final shot could literally be experienced as one big “fuck you” to the whole study of philosophy while Socrates, Kant and the other great thinkers do somersaults and cartwheels in their graves. The comedic moments like the one with the poet (still the best thing about this movie), the Gelato maker and the housekeeper who goes from being of “low value” in one round to being an example of “strength” in another, feel less and less intentional as the picture meanders to its infuriating conclusion. Once questions of religion and sexual preference start taking precedent over common-sense and reason, the movie begins to rip its own concept into shreds. There could be those viewers who may be able to watch this film and not mind its message, but then we'd have to put our philosophy hats on and question wether these viewers ever attended a philosophy class and if they care to understand the reasoning behind philosophical debates. Hubbles developed a nifty concept and was doing it cinematic justice through the hyper mind-settings of the proverbial bunkers, but once that lever was pulled and the film's concept was rendered pointless, we only cared about the answer to one question: “when is this going to end?” [D]

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More: Sophie Lowe, James D'Arcy, Reviews, Review

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  • Daniel | April 18, 2014 8:46 PMReply

    Here's my take on this movie;
    The first and second act were the professor trying to show why he was eventually the best partner for Petra and that Rhys (boyfriend) was not and would also leave her if circumstances called for it (he turning gay). The third act was her showing the professor why she took her boyfriend, who was in every rational way inferior to the professor, over him by convincing the whole class from the importance of qualifications to other attributes like culture and simple enjoyment.

  • Ong | April 11, 2014 10:12 AMReply

    Something interesting to note. The experiment was performed 3 times, and the ending scene has 3 iterations. Could it be related?

  • Ben | March 27, 2014 6:07 AMReply

    This movie was a hard to grasp one at that. I recently took a philosophy class and, although it was me and two or three others who actually participated in any in class discussion, even setting up class studying, I thought this movie played well on the ideas that were presented in the beginning.
    The end scenario or whatever it was actually called was a play on the fact that ignorance is bliss. The idea was to have fun in the bunker and to be human. Not superior than human and it's debatable whether that was a good gene pool or not.

    She was making a point to the professor and this statement was reinforced later that "The perfect match isn't the most best/compatible match." Recall that the professor said that he and her would be a better match by meaning of proper genes. I think truly this movie was more of a point against eugenics and the more perfect world we would be in. The one girl reminded the professor that no strong nation was ever built with out a strong working class. This is why some saw so many plot holes. I also thought why drag on these bunker scenes until after the fact now that I understand why. As someone who has debated both for and against eugenics this is a popular theme for a debate against eugenics.

    Truly a good movie and a must watch. Sorry for rambling on, but I came to figure out what the point if this movie was about and I completely answered it myself and for others. I tried to tone myself down but I love writing essays.

  • panos | February 23, 2014 8:38 PMReply

    im not a top notch smart person, but i start to worry about the intelligence of the westerners. smart and innovative film? the plotholes were so numerous that you cannot watch this film even as a whole big allegory. it cant even happen if you consider we were watching the possible scenarios unfoldling in front of our eyes in a movie form but that would be impossible since we have 20 people anyone with his own character and opinions. how all these synchrinize and blend perfectly in a unified whole without any problems? the very rules were so loose in that "though experiment" that you could put whatever crap the thoughts they did were also not so smart and the plans they made were super flawed. the wholeyou wanted in there. in the end meaning was like, no brains are needed, screw mechanical engineers and all, we just need poets, harpists and philosophers (i bet colleges like that did were the major sponsors of the movie. come to us! it doesnt matter that you wont find a job afterwards...). and also dont forget gay rights and gay genes that should pass were an important issue here (puke from all aspects). wow that was a bad movie, but could give you some food for that of what could be a good movie with similar basis...

  • Jack | February 11, 2014 3:46 AMReply

    Okay this review bothered me in many ways. I'll take a select couple:

    "There could be those viewers who may be able to watch this film and not mind its message, but then we'd have to put our philosophy hats on and question wether these viewers ever attended a philosophy class..."

    That's just it. This movie doesn't require you to take a philosophy class. All that you're given is discussed within the movie. And what this does is invite thoughts derived outside of philosophy and logic. That's the whole message of the story. Even the movie points out that philosophy applied to reality, is like masturbation is to sex. There is no monkey on a typewriter; there is no infinite time.

    "...but once that lever was pulled and the film's concept was rendered pointless, we only cared about the answer to one question: 'when is this going to end?'"

    Good God. Another use of "we" in order to convince our minds into thinking that if you loved this movie, you would be the minority. Why don't you use a more fitting word: "I"? You're as pretentious as you claim the movie to be.

    The third act was to illustrate defiance. It's not about common sense. The teacher didn't use any in his given scenarios, so why should the students live according to his rules back. They basically said, we choose those that entertain so they can enjoy their short life, and then implode. You have a teacher who dictates logic to be the guiding principle to survival, yet his whole reason for this was out of emotion. That's why he was so trigger-happy. Shooting the poet without even considering the second part of him (that could be valuable) is the same thing as shooting himself. Why? Because the teacher said he was a wild card. Nobody knew his value until it was too late. Same with the poet.

    I think what you failed to realize was there was no logic because the teacher created this world of falling atomic bombs to get his way. So there is no "realism" applied to the thought experiment in the first place.

  • K.S.Subramanian | February 5, 2014 9:11 AMReply

    First point of philosophy is that one should be true in thought, words and deeds.

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