Quebec stage and film director Robert Lepage (“The Confessional”) makes a brave and ambitious, if not totally satisfying, leap into the far reaches of reality with his first English-lingo film, “Possible Worlds.” This elegant-looking brain teaser, based on the 1992 John Mighton play, will intrigue fans of sci-fi and philosophy as it opens up questions of existence and consciousness, while its sophisticated story about a man searching for the woman he loves among her various physical incarnations brings in the theme of lost love, though mainly on a cerebral level. Brilliant setup falters in second half as pic struggles toward a comprehensible emotional pay-off that it fails to deliver, but this disturbing, multilayered pic remains in the memory and stands to enlarge quirky helmer’s circle of admirers. Pic’s philosophical threads are overlaid with a jolly detective story that could spur TV interest, though plot intricacies will soon lose casual viewers.
A police inspector approaching the end of his career (Sean McCann) and his less brainy assistant (Rick Miller) arrive at the scene of a gruesome crime to find George (Tom McCamus) murdered and his brain missing. A series of similar murders leads them to an animal-testing lab run by a mad scientist whose favorite pastime is spending time in a sensory deprivation tank and who keeps mouse brains alive with electrode stimulation.
In “flashback” (though time has little meaning here) George arrives as a stranger in town and hits on the serious neurologist Joyce (Tilda Swinton), who wants nothing to do with him. But later, a swinging variation on Joyce (also played by Swinton) picks him up in a bar for a one-nighter.
George is not surprised at this extraordinary coincidence, since he has the unique gift/curse of being able to remember all his parallel lives. These existences go on simultaneously in parallel universes and are nearly identical except for slight variations. Both women, and others too, are variations of his dead wife, for whom he continues to search.
McCamus normalizes pic’s psychic protag as a very human, average guy exploring different facets of a relationship. Playing the facets with intelligence and verve, Swinton truly seems like different people, while strongly suggesting that audience is watching an actor create four characters out of the same material. Also very enjoyable is McCann as the refreshingly logical veteran detective, who offers a familiar framework against which to measure the story.
The New Age soundtrack from Ron Proulx sets a relaxing tone. Francois Seguin’s ultramodern apartment and office sets remove time references, while Michele Hamel’s costumes help viewers swiftly tell the Joyces apart.