‘Minor Premise’ examines the many within the one

“Minor Premise” (2020). Cast: Sathya Sridharan, Paton Ashbrook, Dana Ashbrook, Nikolas Kontomanolis. Director: Eric Schultz. Screenplay: Justin Moretto, Eric Schultz and Thomas Torrey. Web siteTrailer.

It’s long been suspected that there’s much more going on inside our brains, minds and consciousness than most of us typically realize. What’s more, it’s become apparent that the complexities involved are far more involved than we generally understand. Learning how to harness this power could prove beneficial if tapped properly. But, if mishandled, we might also be opening a Pandora’s Box that we would have trouble once again closing. So it is in the insightful new sci-fi/smart horror thriller, “Minor Premise.”

Wouldn’t it be something if we could figure out a way to record our memories for playback whenever we wanted to see them? It’s a prospect with revolutionary potential. And that possibility has now become the work of a research neuroscientist, Ethan (Sathya Sridharan), who’s carrying out studies begun by his father, Paul (Nikolas Kontomanolis). He hopes that his findings will not only realize his goal, but surpass the legacy established by his paternal predecessor.

The intent behind this work, however, is to produce technology more meaningful than just giving the public a tool for on-demand strolls down memory lane. Ethan and his research associate, Malcolm (Dana Ashbrook), one of Paul’s former colleagues, hope to develop technology for deeper purposes. They believe it’s possible to create equipment that can be used to aid in areas like psychiatry, where recorded images of retrieved memories might be helpful in enabling patients to uncover sources of psychological blockages or perhaps even heal traumas. Imagine the implications.

However, in initial testing, the quality of the recorded memories has left much to be desired. The images have turned out blurry or obscured with overlaid distortions, making the recordings almost useless. In the next phase of the work, the aim is to see if the images can be cleared up, removing the clutter to produce sparkling, unobstructed likenesses.

To achieve that objective, Ethan believes he needs to somehow “separate” and distinguish the various images found in the recordings by examining how they arise in the brain. In the process of doing so, he discovers that the memory images consist of composites that draw input from different segments of our gray matter associated with various aspects of our mind, consciousness and personality. And so, to see how that works in practice, he decides that tests should be run to see how each of those segments operate and contribute to the process of memory formation. But, to do that, he requires a human subject, and, given that this is his project, he determines who better to experiment upon than himself. He thus becomes a guinea pig for his own study.

Not long after beginning his work, though, things start getting weird. Ethan begins having memory lapses, evidenced by the discovery of things in his home being out of sorts. Items show up that he didn’t recall being there, and others are inexplicably out of place. He starts having mysterious health issues. And he fails to follow through on scheduled obligations, such as meetings with Malcolm and backers of his research. Granted, Ethan has a history of being absent-minded at times but nothing like what he’s experiencing now. The ramifications of his seeming flightiness are serious, too, threatening the future of the work, not to mention infuriating Malcolm.

Research neuroscientist Ethan (Sathya Sridharan) is on the verge of losing his mind – literally – when an experiment goes wrong in director Eric Schultz’s debut feature, “Minor Premise,” now available for online streaming. Photo courtesy of Utopia Distribution.

When enough of these instances occur, Ethan realizes that something is amiss and that he must do something about it. To gather evidence of what might be transpiring, he installs a series of video surveillance cameras in the house to capture any activity going on that he might not be able to recall on his own. He also consults his friend Alli (Paton Ashbrook), a fellow researcher with whom he also has a past. But, even with the collection of video footage and Alli’s assistance, the strangeness continues, and it proves to be even more erratic and unpredictable than initially thought.

Over time, though, with the compilation of considerable recorded evidence and Alli’s firsthand observations of Ethan’s behavior, a pattern begins to emerge. It seems that Ethan had hooked himself up to the equipment from his experiment. The equipment, in turn, analyzed the various segments of the mind that contribute to memory formation, identifying each of the separate components. However, the problem with that is that the equipment also made a comparable separation inside Ethan’s mind.

From that evidence, the researchers discover that Ethan’s consciousness has fragmented into 10 segments that each take control of him for six minutes every hour, repeating with the start of each new 60-minute cycle. They also discover that the segments correspond to those identified by the equipment. Elements like anxiety, anger, libido, intellect and euphoria, among others, each take charge when their time comes up every hour. Ethan’s personality and behavior correspondingly reflect those traits. He can be thoughtful and considerate one minute and off the rails the next. It makes for a scary and unpredictable time for both Ethan and Alli as they seek to determine what the segments yield and in what sequence.

This development also explains Ethan’s ongoing memory loss. Because it’s now apparent that our memories arise from input from each of these segments, they can only be recalled when they’re compiled as collective amalgamations. This accounts for why the recorded memory images collected in the initial phase of the research turned out so convoluted: Because every segment was supplying input to the visual read-outs, they were all vying to have their input represented and depicted in the finished product. Now, with each segment of Ethan’s mind functioning independently of one another, no cohesive fusions occur, leaving him with no compiled memory to recall. Thus, if he wants to return to normal, he must reintegrate the components to restore their joint functioning – the way they were meant to work in the first place.

As Ethan and Alli work to develop the reintegration process, they find themselves up against several challenges. For instance, they must work quickly, given the short time frames involved with each segment being in control. And, considering the differences in the nature of each component, they must take greatest advantage of those that will be most helpful – such as intellect and creativity – during the brief periods in which they’re in charge; anxiety and anger, by contrast, are not likely to be nearly as accommodating under these conditions. What’s more, despite the evidence Ethan and Alli have amassed, there’s still one segment – No. 8 – whose nature they have not been able to identify. That means there’s going to be a six-minute period that occurs every hour in which they have no idea what they’re up against.

Thus sets the stage for what the researchers must do if they hope to successfully reintegrate the segments of Ethan’s mind and restore his memory function to normal operation. But, with the clock and a hefty dose of unpredictability working against them, that’s easier said than done.

The concept of “the many within the one” can be found throughout literature, philosophy and mythology. From the archetypal theories of Carl Jung to an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, various references support the notion that multiple aspects of ourselves can be found coexisting within each of us and that they all contribute to making us who and what we are. In some ways, this could even be seen as an internalized example of the “It takes a village” principle that began as an African proverb and later went on to provide the title and content of Hillary Clinton’s best-seller about raising children. Every element plays a part, and they are all intrinsically connected.

So it is, too, in “Minor Premise” when it comes to the issue of memory formation, that input from each of the various aspects that comprise our consciousness work together to produce their finished product. In many ways, this is very much in line with the concept of our multidimensional selves, a key concept in the philosophy of conscious creation. This metaphysical doctrine maintains that we draw upon the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents in manifesting the reality we experience. And, with the collective participation of each of these individual selves, we coalesce their contributions into the cohesive whole that we find surrounding us.

However, this process only works when they various contributing aspects cooperate. If they go rogue and each try to produce results on their own, a schism can emerge, not unlike what Ethan experiences when the various segments of his consciousness seek to function independently. It’s as if one were to try out a recipe using only one of its ingredients. Imagine trying to bake a cake only using flour or to create pasta sauce with only tomatoes. In both cases, the end result just wouldn’t be the same without the inclusion of everything else that makes them what they’re supposed to be.

This collective effort is crucial in memory formation since memories play an important role in shaping our beliefs, as evidenced, for example, in the recently released Greek offering, “Apples” (“Mila”). When the process is disrupted, it affects not only what we recall, but also how we function in our everyday experience. So it is for Ethan as he struggles to cope with getting a handle on an existence whose history and attributes he struggles to remember, making his ability to maneuver through it increasingly difficult every six minutes.

Despite the obstacles he encounters in his research, the premise from which Ethan initially operates – that of examining our memories to help us heal and thus potentially reshape our lives – is theoretically sound and indeed possible. If we were to see firsthand exactly what our memories are and how they arise, we would have an opportunity to reframe our perspectives and subsequently set ourselves in a new direction. Imagine using this process, for example, in rehabilitating individuals with issues that could be keeping them stuck, such as prison inmates or those with mental health conditions. Even those with less severe but nevertheless inhibiting blockages could be enabled to get past them and move forward in their lives. That could be quite a remarkable breakthrough, no matter what the degree of severity involved.

However, as the film shows, this is a process that needs to be carried out where all of the contributing factors in memory formation are allowed to work together. They all have something to say and need to be able to say it. For example, when it comes to memory, can we really separate our recounting of the facts of an event without taking into account how we feel about those facts? Both the facts and the feelings collaborate in producing the beliefs that drive the nature of the memory that results. If we were to try to analyze the memory by drawing upon only one aspect of what went into its creation, we’d get a skewed view, not unlike what would come from those aforementioned single-ingredient recipes. Such a practice would thus prevent us from seeing the bigger picture that results from their mutual collaboration and keep us from making any meaningful progress at resolving the issues that their examination was designed to foster.

This is something that Ethan comes to realize as he and Alli work through the details of trying to establish a successful reintegration process. However, when certain segments of his consciousness are allowed to come to the surface in full force without the buffering effects of the other elements, the unrestrained power of those aspects is also given free rein, and that subsequently becomes apparent in his outward behavior. This has the potential for the unleashing of a truly dangerous situation, one that could carry significant consequences, such as preventing the reintegration process from taking place. Or worse.

Filmmaker Eric Schultz’s debut feature is indeed impressive. It echoes the works of director Christopher Nolan, as well as themes first raised in the sci-fi classic “Brainstorm” (1983). This hybrid sci-fi/smart horror thriller gets better with each passing frame, despite an opening sequence that is a little too technical and needlessly cryptic. While the disjointed nature of the film’s outset is no doubt an attempt to depict what’s going on in the protagonist’s mind, it carries the idea a little too far in the first 30 minutes, making the story challenging to follow at times. Nevertheless, despite this shortcoming, the film makes up for this once the story hits its stride, taking viewers on quite a ride all the way to its conclusion – one that tells an intelligent story and kicks some ass in the process, with plenty of twists and turns along the way. The picture is available for online streaming from multiple sources.

The reality we experience is in many ways like an elegantly woven tapestry – beautiful to look at but easily unraveled if we begin pulling on even one of the threads. Before long, what we’re left with is a pile of strands that aren’t easily reassembled into what we had. So it is also with our minds and consciousness, the means we employ in bringing our existence into being, including the memories we hold about it. If we unduly tamper with the composition of these foundational elements, we may quickly find ourselves having to pick up the pieces to see if we can put them back together again, a prospect with no guarantee for success. We should thus be careful how we tread. The premise behind what we’re attempting to achieve may be significant and well-intentioned, but, if we err in our effort to realize that objective, the resulting adverse consequences could be anything but minor.

Copyright © 2020, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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