Trudging through life we are constantly bombarded with memories we wish we could let go of, some painful, some embarrassing, and many in between. With the success and uptick of movies discussing Alzheimer’s recently, the concept of memory, how it plays tricks on us, and the possibility of forgetting who we are is ever-present. Cerebrum is no exception. Directed by Arvi Ragu and written by Ragu and Gary D. Houk, this film uses a clever science fiction background to reveal our fears of love, loss, and family trauma, all surrounding how we preserve and make our own memories of it all.
Cerebrum begins with us following Tom (Christian James) as he returns home in a desperate attempt to escape his financial troubles. Letting his scientific genius father, Kirk (James Russo), pay him to perform studies on him, Tom is immediately thrown into the world of uploading, storing, and surrogating memory. The experiment initially fails, causing Tom and Kirk to explode at each other, scratching the surface of old wounds. Waking up the next day to see his father has died, Tom is pushed by lab assistant Bruno (Anirudh Pisharody) to sell the equipment and research. Deciding to follow his curiosity instead, Tom and childhood sweetheart Chloe (Alexxis Lemire) set up shop in her uncle’s abandoned house to get to the bottom of who actually killed Kirk. This leads them down several twists and turns, while also allowing Kirk and Tom to reconnect by way of Tom uploading his father’s memories to himself over and over again. The history of Tom’s mother and the trauma Tom has been running from all these years is a beautiful backdrop to exploring how his family fell apart. All this leads to an incredibly fun, body-swapping, memory uploading, who’s-who stand off of a climax as Bruno and scheming investor Reinhard (John Ruby) clash headlong with Tom and Chloe over not only who killed Kirk, but who should own and use his research.
As heavy as the subject matter of this film may seem, Cerebrum is incredibly fun to watch. It's a nice escape in the face of the seriousness of the past year that’s halted so much of our way of life. The film does a great job of keeping the audience up to speed with all the gadgets and lingo of the sophisticated world of memory storage. Christian James does a wonderful job here, really taking on the bulk of the acting work as he plays himself, Kirk, and even the occasional bad guy throughout. Possibly my favorite clever trick to help us keep them all straight is the color palette – Tom wears blue, Kirk wears red, and as Tom uploads his father into his memory more and more, the clothes he wears begin to checker, merge, have equal blue and red in them. So much so, that we as the audience begin to fear for the safety of who Tom is as he continues on his quest to right the wrongs of what happened to his father and their relationship.
Perhaps where Cerebrum falters just a bit is in the fact the audience, at times, is so far ahead of the main characters that it’s jolting. Instead of discovering something alongside our protagonists, we realize we’ve sprinted ahead of them, leading to feeling both spoon-fed by the story and doing a disservice to the characters. Tom especially at times proves he’s wildly capable of problem-solving, but then falls for the simplest of schemes perpetrated by his opponents. Although, overall, it still feels crisp and inviting to follow our main characters as they support each other through these dips and bends.
There are rituals I miss. Going to a movie theater alone to watch something powerful, funny, and will eventually bond me to the other filmgoers. Being in a hotel room, flipping through channels to find something entertaining, easy, and rewarding. Getting a group of friends together to watch several features back-to-back, enjoying each other’s company as well as that of the movies we’ve invited into our space. And, honestly, Cerebrum would be a great fit for all of these, a true treat, a welcome sign of the light at the end of the tunnel.
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