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

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by Nikola Grozdanovic
February 3, 2014 7:06 PM
25 Comments
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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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25 Comments

  • alisea | August 18, 2014 5:03 PMReply

    hi, does anyone know where exactly the school scenes were filmed? I'm going traveling next year all around Asia and would love to visit that building :)

  • Jacob | August 13, 2014 8:50 PMReply

    To MRSLANHAM,{SPOILERS} The first ending was him eating his sandwich and living his life as thought nothing was wrong, the second ending was him shooting himself and the third ending was him brooding his whole life over Petra.
    (Still Spoilers.)What I got from this movie is that The three endings are directly related to the endings of each scenario. The second scenario, he gives up because he doesn't get what he wants and ends it, which is also what happens in the second ending, the third scenario, he chooses to still hold his obsession with Petra personal. He only steps back because the others protect James and Petra. This is related to the third ending because he chooses to still obsess over Petra but he doesn't do anything about it because he know that other people, (society, co-workers, his students, whatever,) would get in the way and protect her from him. The first scenario/ending was the hardest concept for me to grasp but I managed to come up with a theory to satisfy my inner hunger for a meaning behind everything. I believe the first ending, when he just carries on with his life as if nothing happened, is what he does at the first scenario, he knows that he could help them by giving them the code, but he lets them make their mistake and doesn't intervene. He does the same in the first ending, he knows that he could save Petra from her "mistake," but he doesn't he chooses to eat his sandwich and live his life, letting her learn on her own.

    All my point of view. I am in no way saying these are the real scenarios but this is what I personally gathered from the movie. That you have three options, you can live your life in peace, you can end it, or you can obsess over things that you cannot control.

    -Jake

  • MrsLanham | August 8, 2014 4:06 PMReply

    I feel like I discovered a treasure when I found this movie yesterday. The other reviewers have made good points, and I don't wish to come up against them, but I have a few addt'l thoughts. First, and I truly don't mean to be dense but I want to know, there were said to be 3 different endings. (SPOILERS AHEAD) I will watch again, but I really only noticed 2- the prof coming home and shooting himself, and spending the rest of his life brooding over Petra's desertion of him. What was the 3rd? Thank you to anyone who can point it out to me. Next, I don't think Petra's stoicism was wooden acting or irritating. It was intriguing, even if I have to admit that I would have liked to see her show more emotion. Once you get past her unrealistic insight, you begin to see that her character only exists to prove that living a fulfilled but short life is better than a long life based totally on the coldness of Logic, absent of what the heart wants. Now, I have questions about other things, however. Why keep going back and looking at the Prof's decaying body over and over. It was interesting, but what was it saying? Also, she says several times she loved James, but I never truly believed it, and the shower scene only concreted that for me. Lastly, Petra and Zimit's relationship never made sense. She was sleeping with James AND Zimit? That's a bit weird. Anyway, overall, I really liked this movie. The settings were powerful, the back and forth between the thought world and the real world felt seamless, and the defeat of the Prof's felt satisfying for James as well as Petra. He never could understand that she wanted more out of life than cold, passionless logical decision. She desired the beauty of risk, of taking leaps of faith, and, well, I think she embodied the phrase "Taking the road less traveled".

  • Dustin | July 22, 2014 7:10 PMReply

    I think the director tried to tie the whole movie up just as we all try to tie our justifications and reasons for our own lives. All the teacher wanted was the student, everything else was nonsense. Maybe the teacher shot the Petra's boyfriend and was walking back up the stairs and to his desk? Maybe he believes our human struggle is one of our grasp on love and it becomes our own demise with the murder from the mans perspective. Then the shower scene with Petra being insincere when her boyfriend tells her he loves her is the women's version of undoing by not knowing what she wants.

  • Try to understand | July 2, 2014 5:10 PMReply

    What it appears this reviewer is missing, and possibly the majority of viewers, is that this movie is ITSELF a thought experiment.

    The professor taking the role of "Wildcard" forces the group to realize they are unaware of their ignorance, and understanding that is a first step.

    In the first act, the principles relevant to the proper involvement in this experiment are explained by the Socratic method. The first iteration of the experiment demonstrates the layman thought process, and the usual consequences of it. The second iteration showed the educated thought process, and the consequences. The THIRD iteration showed the enlightened thought process, and that enlightened thinking isn't affected by the outcome at all.

    The movie wasn't perfect, but it shows the starting point of philosophical thought, and promises the peace that can be attained by commitment to a lifestyle devoted to it. The relationship between the professor, and Petra; demonstrates the professor trying to regain the happiness he sacrificed by following philosophy, while Petra demonstrates that his loss of happiness was due to his pursuing it too narrowly.

    Petra finally breaks from the student role she was playing, showing that to perpetually seek knowledge is the key to everything, even though she had already surpassed her teacher. Yet she understood that there is truth to be found in everything, and a thought experiment is a workout for the brain. She concluded the class by flexing her strength, and showing the professor that there is a solution to the impossible problem he tried to create, and that it was his limited view of what philosophy is which caused him to "fail" in his task. Ultimately, the class following Petra, and abandoning the professor; demonstrates the defeat of his elitism, in favour of insight.

    There is an incalculable distance for the characters in this movie to journey after walking out of the class, but it is their own task to follow the path. Such is the fact in real life as well. Finishing school tends to be seen as the end of one chapter, and on to a new one, but it is actually a means to acquire the education one requires to educate themself. It is still, and will always be, up to the student to continue their education.

    Nobody said the answers would come easy, or that they would be obvious.

  • Maxagain | June 26, 2014 3:04 AMReply

    Another look at this entire movie reveals that it really comes down to the teachers way of doing things which is by way of logic and critical thinking, and the young student he's in love with goes by emotion and joy and all three thought experiments are manifestations of where they are at in life and how they think, feel and live. Ultimately at the end it's revealed that their relationship can't contiue as the young student doesn't will it. It's an interesting look although at two different approach two life. This is a movie you could watch more then once and get more and more out of it.

  • Max | June 26, 2014 3:01 AMReply

    I think it's pretty clear what the movie is about. The teach is trying to push logical thinking but the students buck that plan by showing that sometimes even picking the most logical candidates for the bunker doesn't necessarily mean things are going to work out for the better. The students are showing that chaos often overtakes logic in situations like this. They run through the experiment three different times and largely get the same result, only in the final one most are happier even though they reach the same conclusion.

    The ending may confuse some. The teacher pulls the gun and shoots himself, lost without the young teenage girl who is his love and his muse. But then we see him walk up the stairs again as well as sit and look out a window. The teacher is in his own thought experiment on how to deal with the fact that he cannot be with the student.

  • Scott | June 24, 2014 2:15 AMReply

    I liked the movie despite seeming long and having a few holes like the remembering of the code as I felt the scenarios should independently solve the problems of survival. I did feel the ending was somewhat weak but fitting. The teacher that was so damn worried about his student's scenarios saving the human race could not cope and save his own life. The depiction of Allegory of a Cave was interesting as that by far is my favorite bit of philosophy. I feel the teacher fit what Plato wrote as Socrates describing the unsuitability for someone whose education never ends being unfit to handle the matters of the State. The best leaders are those who have seen the truth and are willing to reenter the cave and do the work even though that work is not enjoyable. In the end, we are evolved animals and spiritual beings with both our unique qualities and persistence in the face of certain defeat being required for survival. After all, did the last carrier pigeon not feed her young because the situation was hopeless. The teacher would have, but none of his students would. Socrates was right.

  • Scott | June 24, 2014 2:19 AM

    That is, the teacher would have shot the passenger pigeon chicks, but the students would have fed them. Sorry for my error and vague description.

  • Dan | June 15, 2014 4:24 PMReply

    Doesn't this show that our society is being held back by things like religion and sexuality? We shouldn't care as much about those things, and care more about making the world a better place and striving to perpetuate the human race.
    I'd say this is a really good movie and makes you think a lot, if you keep an open mind and look at all angles of the story.

  • rhea | May 31, 2014 10:21 AMReply

    i am no expert in philosophy.the teacher advertises the idea where survival is done through facts(as he shoots the poet because he wont be any useful)
    and petra choses survival through living life fully by enjoying their last year on earth.though i have to say that i did not understand the relationship between the teacher and student until james confronts the teacher.

  • Samuel Agu | May 10, 2014 7:55 PMReply

    the movie great,

  • John | May 9, 2014 12:29 PMReply

    Typical movie-making drivel, where at the end we learn the impetus for the discussion is a secret affair between the teacher and a student. Waste of time.

  • Caitie | May 5, 2014 11:28 AMReply

    This movie was awesome. The ending was yes a mind trick that I can't solve but otherwise you understand that the story is indeed a love story of the teaching trying to show the student how he was the better choice using the only methods he knows; phliosophy.

  • Jrrr | June 7, 2014 3:53 AM

    I thought the conclusion was when "logic" easily defeated by the purest "heart"

  • Matt | May 4, 2014 5:42 PMReply

    I still quite like the movie. I mean, you wish for it to be a very intellectual thing, you seek plot holes and you want to destroy it. But it's not so much about philosophy, it's just a metaphor of the relation between the teacher and the girl. See those "plot-holes", they are hints that this is not logical, because the characters want to prove a point, and drift from philosophy (human nature is flawed, they talked about that if I remember. Because the movie also drifted from what you wanted to see, doesn't mean that it's bad

  • Guru | April 26, 2014 10:04 AMReply

    Regarding comment: "The final shot could literally be experienced as one big “f**k you” to the whole study of philosoph".. Well, the writer lost it all, after I was thinking Wow this writer must be scrutinising every theory in phlosophy in his/her mind while watching the movie. The final shot was actually a revelation as well as a culmination of what started off: Ego-clash. Ego-clash between TWO strong protaganists: 1 the Girl (Sophie) & other Professor. In first 2 iterations, professor was trying to convey the message to Sophie's lover that he was not worthy of Sophie's affection and that he is the most important man for her, but then Sophie understood his plot and took over in 3rd iteration when she discarded Professor from being super-important and giving a different take on LOGIC of choosing right people (by not going by logic, but her heart)..What ever she did was to defy the professor, even by not choosing her for bunker in last iteration. Hence, the movie was clash of egoes between Prof who want to win her from her bf and her trying to take lead in making him realise that he is actually her past and that she want to spend rest of her life with her new lover.

  • Amit Heaven | April 24, 2014 2:56 AMReply

    I agree completely with this review. I found the movie very intriguing throughout the first 3/4 of the movie, during the last quarter, however, the real underlying premise was revealed. This revelation sabotaged the value of the entire film as we pretty much feel like wasting the entire time going through a rigged thought experiment for a jealous and shallow philosophical teacher's selfish and irresponsible attempt to prove he has better genes than one of his students so he can get the girl, at the expense of everyone else in the class and "in the theater". That simply cheapens EVERYTHING about this film, and makes his dedication to philosophy hypocritical.

  • 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.

  • Frank | May 27, 2014 8:43 PM

    Philosophical allegories aside, did anyone else thought the whole teacher/student relationship was "jacked up" to begin with? Loser teacher who doesn't respect his profession, facing real jail time while conjuring a hypothetical scenarios to prove that he is the better man is invalid.

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