In the first Back to the Future film, Marty McFly straps on a guitar, turns to a baffled band, and says, “watch for the changes, and try to keep up, okay?” With Coherence, filmmaker James Ward Byrkit is the rascally McFly, and I’m standing on the stage looking absolutely perplexed. It’s because no matter how hard you try to keep up, Byrkit constantly has us on our toes. Great Scott!
Ironically enough, it’s extremely difficult to describe Coherence. I can try my damnedest, but the results would have me spinning my wheels. And, by busting out the the odd hint, it would constitute being a somewhat spoiler to Byrkit’s carefully detailed puzzle.
It’s a film that has a great opening that lures us in. Byrkit takes the fly-on-the-wall perspective to another level, and has us feeling like a stranger at a dinner party. The actors are all naturals and the cinematography is very busy, offering lots of closed shots of friends catching up and carrying conversations across the room. We almost feel inclined to apologize and excuse ourselves when a character is moving towards the screen. Coherence will occasionally cut to a black screen to portray a lapse in time. These editing decisions are awfully close to clipping dialogue, and the result can’t help but give off a jarring impression. But, by doing this, Byrkit allows his film to cut out pointless small talk and focus on elements that are going to provide clues to his grand plan.
The film has been pitched in its advertising materials as a movie that will have you rearranging your brain. That said, even if you know of the apparent mind-boggling nature of James Ward Byrkit’s flick, you’re still not prepared for what the filmmaker has in store. It’s a gifted film that consistently has us gripped, but Coherence had me feeling overwhelmed. I would often shake my head in disbelief and even chuckle at the skewed realities and the characters’ confusion. These laughs weren’t mean though. I was amused by Byrkit’s ambition and innovative storytelling, and I couldn’t believe how far down the rabbit hole Coherence had taken me.
There’s a degree of doubt that’s unusually light in Coherence. In the film, all of the dinner party patrons find a strange artifact and start drawing conclusions around a possible theory. They all jump on board without barely raising an eyebrow. It would’ve been nice to have more of a pessimistic debater in the group to add skepticism to the imagination, but I can happily live with what Byrkit is offering us.
Coherence is a film that deserves repeated viewings, but not right away. At least, for me. It’s a film that needs to settle before it runs another lap. I watched Coherence with my wife and by the end of the film, my wife’s brain was sparkling with lively activity. Mine felt like a clump of curdling sour cream. But, even though we had two different reactions of comprehension, we both could agree that Coherence is indubitably exciting and new.