Science fiction is a highly inventive and audacious genre of film to tackle, especially at the indie level of filmmaking. For the most part, successful science fiction films with bold visuals, even bolder visions and stories, as well as ballsy revelations are either done with huge budgets backed by studios who’s deep pockets help drive narratives and give life to outer world creations or are given to established filmmakers to see through their visions of the greater unknown. With the likes of Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg saturating the science fiction film market, indie filmmakers rely heavily on interesting, unique and mind-blowing narratives to help their science fiction dreams become a reality. In recent memory, some of the more memorable indie science fictions films to come in the last decade have come from independent wonders like Make Cahill, who’s low-budget science fiction films I, Origins and of course Another Earth shook Sundance and the independent society on their head thanks to never before realized stories of identity, mortality and space set in world’s not too far from our own. With Clara, our very own Cahill-esque filmmaker Akash Sherman, hailing from our native Toronto, Canada, tackles the very tricky indie/science fiction territory with love, grace, and an emotionally driven narrative. Sherman, who at twenty-three years old, thought of the story of Clara while in class with a friend, fleshed out the basis of his sophomore feature film on the basis of two polar opposites falling in love, even despite the fact that each of their worlds is crashing right before their eyes.
To say the least, Clara is not the last great Canadian indie science fiction film to come out recently. Thanks to balls-to-wall, gonzo inspired filmmaking style, Matt Johnson gave audiences Operation Avalanche in 2016, a totally risky and savant mockumentary style film about how NASA hired filmmakers to create the moon landing as opposed to actually pioneering astronauts to traveling to the moon. While Operation Avalanche could be a close comparison to Clara‘s origins in terms of country and overall cinematic potential, Clara excels not for its minor cosmic theories, paint like portrait of space, nor does it lift-off because of its unique scientific claims, Clara gives clarity to the reality of love and the cience fiction elements that make it so wonderful yet unbelievable.
First and foremost, Clara is a love story, which, one can only imagine, is perhaps the hardest notion to grasp right next to questions about existence and dare I say the notion of God. Yet, what makes the film such a success is its hard-pressed ideas of science and astronomy gravitating between these two unlikely characters.
Dr. Issac Bruno (Patrick J. Adams) is an astronomer who’s head is spent more in the stars than on Earth. Following the devastating breakup with his true love, fellow astronomer Dr. Rebecca Jenkins (Kristen Hager) as well as a personal loss that Bruno sees as unsalvageable, he begins dedicating his life to his work as a teacher, but even more-so, devoting his time to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to contribute to the discovery of new life within the vast and misunderstood depths of space. Measuring volumes of mass, temperature, and density, Bruno jeopardizes his job by obsessively becoming too close to his passion and dreams of a discovery, which creates a strain on his personal life, as well as his relationship with his best friend and colleague, Dr. Charlie Durant (Ennis Esmer). Packing his bags out of his office, Bruno decides to begin his own science lab, using illegal means of satellite time. Hopeless and without any real assistance, Bruno posts an add for help. As luck and fate would have it, after returning home after a friendly sympathy “sorry for getting fired drink” with his best friend Charlie, Bruno stumbles home to find Clara (Trioan Bellisario) at his doorstep. With no real scientific experience or without any real place to live, Clara is sympathetically hired by Bruno, despite his better judgment.
Teaching Clara the basics of science, space, and astrological knowledge, the two begin a very professional relationship that slowly unravels and puts to questions their past, including; Clara’s health and her upbringing, as well Bruno’s obsession with a discovery. While many may oppose to the very exhausting and roll your eyes to the idea of another successful, predominantly white male and his angst towards love when a free-spirited, beautiful young woman comes crashing into his galaxy, I ask you to take a step back and think about your own personal experiences with heartbreak. Mourning the loss of someone you love does funny things to the heart, and while Adam’s character Bruno may be a paint-by-number depiction of a successful white man yearning from love loss, I can assure you that the yearning and loss people feel is as real as the cliches get. Clara is no more a descent into the painful truths of past relationships and the hurt one feels when betrayed, not only by others but also, by life. The film is a recognition to the chances for hope and second chances of love.
While Bruno and Clara begin to meddle with conversations about God, religion, existence, the human condition, space, time, luck and the stars, the two begin a very troubled romance that is embedded in tragedy. While Bruno believes there are no accidents among the billions upon trillions of opportunities and scenarios in the universe, Clara’s hipster personally slowly convinces Bruno of the possibility of fate and chance. Clara provides some opaque answers to questions one may be asking. But the point of the film isn’t to sugar-coat answers of one’s own purpose nor is it to deepen one’s confusions, the film is a sign of hope; a hope that new love is out there; a hope that life has a funny way of showing us our true potentials, but most of all, the film is an exploration of the wonderment of being found.
Despite its strong performances from Adams and Bellisario, who are a real-life couple outside of the film, as well as a tamed comedic turn by Esmer, who provides the film with some of the best and most required light-hearted moments of the film, Clara still may not be the most original independent science fiction film you may see. Probably described best as a humanistic exploration of the cosmos, with variant hints of cliched love tropes throughout, Clara is like Contact meets Interstellar, but will hundreds of millions of dollars less to make.
Clara does its best to be ambitious and ambiguous by never really relying on freakish CGI or far-fetched theories on whether or not something is truly out there. Instead, the film constantly pulls on your heartstrings and takes you on an emotional rocket-ship towards notions of love, friendship, compassion and companionship with a subjective yet objective eye. While the film’s true grit and wide potential may be lost by the time the credits roll, the film does one thing that truly should be applauded for; being lost, if only for an hour and forty-five minutes, from the world where heartbreak, love loss and tragedy plagues human beings every day. Clara gives truth that even if this crazy world and ride that we call life is as bumpy as the film suggest, we can only hope that we are fortunate enough to spend it next to friends and loved ones who are always in our minds and in our hearts to make it durable.
Night Film Reviews: 8 Out of 10 Stars
What did you think of Clara? Heady sci-fi or placid wannabe? What did you think of Suits’ Patrick J. Adams and his performance and chemistry with his real-life wife Trioan Bellisario? On par with Cahill’s I, Origins, Another Earth or fellow Canadian Matt Johnson’s Operation Avalanche? No need to look into the stars, leave your thoughts below!