When screenwriters turn towards directing their own features, the case is often that they can make their talkiest screenplay into a film. This is not necessary a bad thing at all, especially considering the case of Mateo Gil’s new science fiction tale, Realive (aka Proyecto Lazaro). Here is a film which asks a lot of astute science fiction questions around death and resurrection as our twenty-first century medical science advances towards growing organs, rejuvenating the body with stem cells, and cryogenically preserving the dead or the dying in the hopes that they may be attended to in the future. The corporation at the heart of the film’s Lazarus Project has a witty tagline that demonstrates some of the nuanced qualities of the screenplay, “Immortality is only a question of time.”
You are probably familiar with Gil’s work if you have watched any of Alejandro Amenabar’s cerebral but scary films, from Tesis to Abres Los Ojos (remade with Tom Cruise as Vanilla Sky) to Oscar nominated The Sea Inside and the criminally underrated sword and sandals flick on mathematics and religion, Agora. Gil is to Amenabar as Alex Garland is to Danny Boyle. And the adroit, glossy and verbal Realive is certainly Gil’s Ex Machina.
Structured in three layers, the film examines the case of Marc Jarvis, the first man to have his body pulled out of Cryo and re-constructed to the point where he can be paraded out in front of investors to further justify private company funding for perhaps the immortality of the human race. Much of the film is set in 2086, and involves the medical processes, and complications, in rehabilitating Marc’s body while acclimatizing his mind to 70 years of progress. Marc’s nurse explains (and demonstrates) that attitudes on sex and relationships have significantly changed in the 7 decades he was absent, and the film teases us with demonstrations on the way the internet is now fully audio-visual, and offhand mentions that nobody gives a shit about pulling oil out of the ground for energy or raw materials. Oh, and t-shirts have no neck-bands on the anymore.
Because the film is as much about the humanity as it is about the science, a second, quite significant, layer of the films structure spends a fair amount of time with Marc in 2016. He deals with the fallout of being diagnosed with cancer in his mid thirties, and the tough decision with his fiancee, here, exceptionally played by Game of Thrones‘ red wedding bride, Oona Chaplin, to commit suicide to preserve his body in the best possible shape for the slim hope that the freezing process will work, and that the company will last long enough until such a time comes to resurrect and heal the disease. The emotional crux of the matter, handled with lots of time and energy in the film, are potentially months of lost last days in Marc’s voluntary and pre-mature death. Upon his awakening, there is the anxiety that everyone he has ever had any ties will may be gone. Marc makes jokes over wine to his friends when he announces the decision, “I’ll be sure to fuck all your grandkids!” But, the levity is a cover.
There are several strata of anxiety on display here, both big picture and on an individual level. Science of course, does not work perfectly, nor free of the unexpected, and being an early test subject, Marc suffers immensly in his new body. Fans of Showtime’s exceptional medical inquiry show, The Knick, or those who may remember a certain scene from Alien: Resurrection will have a field day with how Realive understands that science, in execution, is a messy process of trial and error and far more disappointment than elation. Success is just failing not as badly. There is a classical mix of hubris and fear that has driven scientific speculation in popular art for centuries. A more daring step by Gil however is to make Marc neither the hero type, nor one who necessarily rises to the occasion of his own trail. This puts him in line with the characters of Ridley Scott’s vastly misunderstood Prometheus, where the so-called heroes were kind of shallow fuck-ups, with little self awareness of their own limitations.