Tune In, Fall In Love, Freak Out


Frequencies - 2013
Written & Directed by Darren Paul Fisher

Something very interesting happened in 2013, and as far as I can tell, no one noticed.

There's been a lot of bandwidth committed to the decline and fall of the romantic comedy; much of it myopic and limited by standard expectations.  Yes, perhaps what we have come to expect from the commercial "rom-com" has fallen into sharp decline.  Hugh Grant and Katherine Heigl haven't been foisted on us in vacuous "girl movies" for a few years.  Matthew McConaughey decided to go be freakin' awesome instead of flashing his dimples at another fashionable blonde.  But something else has happened, and it's kind of amazing.

There is still romance in film, but it got less screwball, and a lot more clever, at least for one year.  Call them... romantic dramedies, with a sci-fi twist.  I did a fair amount of raving about Spike Jonze's Her... and Richard Curtis' About Time back around list-making time, but it took me a while to catch up with the WAY-under-the-radar Frequencies.  Well, better late than never.

The sci-fi conceit of Frequencies is that all human beings vibrate at certain (wait for it) frequencies which determine their favor with the universe, and therefore, their fate.  People with high frequencies are luckier; the universe goes out of its way to give them what they want or need.  People with low frequencies will rarely be in the right place at the right time, are destined for struggle and will rarely fit in.  Low frequency humans can still be intelligent, but they're bound for failure.  There are also emotional side effects to one's frequency, and the highest ones convey an emotional disconnect.

And that's where Zak and Marie come in.  We join them in childhood as they take a blindfolded exam to determine their frequencies.  Zak, it turns out, has an ultra-low frequency.   Marie has an ultra-high.  She affects the outward signs of human emotions to put others at ease.  Zak is in love with her.  It turns out that ultra-highs and ultra-lows cause conflicts in nature when they're too close together -- like, thunderstorms and parts falling off of airplanes conflicts -- for more than a minute.  Romeo and Juliet had nothing on this star-crossed love.

As they grow up, they occasionally meet up for a minute here and there.  Zak sees these meetings as dates.  Marie sees them as experiments.  After graduation, they each go about their own separate destinies, until fate (or something else) brings them together again.

And that's all I'm going to tell you about that.  The story is so unique that there is incredible joy in its discovery, and I want you to have that for yourself.  But what Frequencies is about is so much more than its story.  The element of frequencies serves a few metaphors, the most obvious being caste/class roles, but others crop up along the way.  There are some beautiful considerations on what it means to love.  There's also a recurring theme of fate and self-determination that you'll want to pay attention to because it becomes a much bigger deal at the end. Frequencies considers the power of words and music, and whether our choices define our fate or vice versa.  It's like the best all-night philosophizing session you had in college, baked into a magical and refreshing narrative.

While there have been more romances in film with sci-fi plots than you'd expect, there aren't so many that use these things to really roll around in philosophical concepts, and I think that's what makes About Time, Her... and Frequencies so distinguished.  The romantic stories and the science fiction conceits all serve larger considerations about life that apply to us much more universally than Kate Hudson trying on dresses or aliens/robots/monsters smashing cities.

I had almost no idea what to expect from Frequencies, going into it.  What I discovered was a masterfully cut gem of refined beauty.  If it sounds like I'm gushing, then you have understood me correctly.

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