“Possibilia” and the Further Possibilities for Understanding Time & Character

Emir Fils-Aime

As of late, filmmakers have been grappling with the future of the visual narrative. What are films and cinema going to look, sound, and feel like? More importantly, how are viewers going to respond to/synthesize characters and the situations that they’re navigating? Mediums like virtual reality, augmented reality and- more vast & loosely defined mediums like- interactive cinema certainly explore this. If one is solely considering the latter, one could cite “Kinoautomat” or the interactive horror films of William Castle as notable examples of such. But, what happens if the temporality in a film is challenged? Do viewers then interact with characters in the same ways? Although certainly not a novel concept, interactive films provide a fresh take on this. Aptly titled, “Possibilia” offers some insight into this inquiry and the ways in which interactive cinema challenges both a character’s construction and presentation on-screen. One would argue that it equally challenges how one relates to and interacts with characters altogether.

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“Possibilia” is a 6 minute short film that depicts a couple on the verge of breaking up with one another and their struggles in communicating with one another as they navigate the process. The film begins with the female lead initiating the act of separation. When she does this, the narrative “splits” into 2 perspectives: 1) the man verbally resisting her apparent departure and 2) the man -passive aggressively- not resisting her apparent departure. The screen actually divides into 2 screens at this very moment and under the entire frame, one is provided with the option of engaging with one of the 2 perspectives. This, however, occurs only for a few seconds. If one elects to not view the secondary perspective, the “originating” narrative/perspective slides back to its original position and returns to dominating the frame. The 2 perspectives still remain below the frame as options that you, as the viewer, are able to switch between as the story progresses. The option of 2 perspectives, however, is a temporary one- in this film’s case; The perspectival options continue to propagate/branch off, offering 2 newer perspectives at each moment a “split” occurs in the story. In a way, this is reminiscent of Anne Friedberg’s writings on the television remote control in “The End of Cinema: Multimedia and Technological Change”. She writes, “With a television remote control, the viewer becomes a montagiste, editing at will with the punch of a fingertip…”(447) “Possibilia” aptly reflects how interactive films too offer viewers this “editor” role- as if they were holding a remote control. “Possibilia” extends past this.

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“Possibilia’s” sole possible shortcoming, one may argue, is in its delivery; namely how it renders and plays. There are moments where the screen seems to glitch; this happens when there are multiple pairs of new perspectives propagating. In these moments, the viewing experience can come across as overstimulating. One can becomes all too aware of the multitude of options that suddenly become available- especially since they are still playing under the main frame. To embody the contrary viewpoint, this is precisely what makes the narrative increasingly interactive and immersive. Viewers are allowed to both edit the narrative while immersing the viewer in the chaos of the situation itself. How so? At the root of their conflict- the very reason for its origin- is a difference in perspectives. This eventually leads to miscommunication and the indecisiveness that drives the characters into choosing what direction to go into next. One’s conception of time is challenged because of this. With 16 different possible narratives developing at the same time (each starting at different points) and with the viewer aware of their existence, time seems irrelevant at certain points. Yet, at the other points, it plays a major role- the narrative wouldn’t be able to “split” otherwise. One would argue that time suspends altogether. Friedberg writes on this notion as well. She writes, “Cinema spectatorship, as one of its essential features, has always produced experiences that are not temporally fixed, has freed the spectator to engage in the fluid temporalities of cinematic construction- flashbacks, ellipses, achronologies- or to engage in other time frames…”(449) “Possibilia” is not only allowing one to be with the characters but to be in their minds as well. The multiple “selves” (seen below) that begin to appear as the narrative(s) progress are a perfect example of this idea. In the same ways that the characters’ individual indecisive ramblings begin to overcome and occupy their minds- so too are they intended to do so in the viewer’s mind.

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“Possibilia” is a bit of a roller coaster- at first a bit overwhelming at but more entertaining and engaging as you interact with it more and more. Its complexities can be seen as both constraints or opportunities to examine how viewers interact with interactive films. “Possibilia’s” manipulation of temporal elements makes it adept at reformatting viewer’s understandings of time and the ways characters navigate that “time”. Because of this, it offers a nuanced view of the character’s journey and the viewer’s involvement in that journey.

Watch “Possibilia” here: https://www.shortoftheweek.com/2016/08/03/possibilia/