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The time-traveller's strife

Tim Kroenert |  21 March 2017


The Death and Life of Otto Bloom (M). Director: Cris Jones. Starring: Xavier Samuel, Rachel Ward, Matilda Brown. 82 minutes

Many stories require a willing suspension of disbelief on the part of their audience. Sometimes the storyteller stretches this clause of the narrative contract to near breaking point. If the stretching becomes terminal, the story fails. That's the case in this fun but far-fetched Australian mockumentary.

To be fair, it's an ambitious premise. The titular hero is an enigma, an artistic wunderkind who just happens to experience time in reverse. All his memories are of the future; his past is as opaque to him as our own futures are to us. This makes him an object of fascination and, for a time, much celebration.

All stories that deal with time travel will come up against paradoxes. Generally the success of the story will come down to how capably these paradoxes are dealt with, and how consistently with the story's internal logic. Few would consider the Back to the Future films as scientifically sound, but they work.

Otto Bloom turns on the concept of time as an extension of the physical dimensions we perceive. If time is as tangible as physical space, then theoretically all events in time are occurring simultaneously. That we perceive time as moving in a particular direction is merely a feature of our human consciousness.

And so Otto (Samuels) turns up in a homeless shelter, with no memory of where he's come from, but an uncanny awareness of things that, to the ordinary mind, seem not to have yet occurred. He becomes an object of study for a young doctor, Ada (played by Ward in the present day, and Brown in flashback).

Xavier Samuel, New York Times front page story from The Death and Life of Otto BloomIt's during these interview scenes that we find the premise to be on shaky ground. If Otto experiences time backwards, how is he able to answer Ada's questions? The film attempts to lampshade this; point out your own logical inconsistencies and the audience might let it slide. Well, not this little black duck.


"When his art declines as he ages, he is ridiculed by news media, even though these are symptoms of the very condition for which they adored him."


You hear that? It's the sound of the narrative contract snapping. It's a shame, because there is fun to be had here, even once you've ceased suspending disbelief. The idea of all time occurring simultaneously makes for some interesting digressions on the nature and meaning of memory and mortality.

Also Jones as writer and director, and his cast, are admirably committed to the premise and to the faux-documentary format. Ward and other cast members bring a straight-faced earnestness, a self- and camera-consciousness, to their 'talking head' interviews. The script is funny and sincere.

So there is poignancy in the treatment of Ada's romance with Otto, and of his celebrity. When he moves on blithely from tragedy, and when his art declines in complexity as he ages, he is ridiculed by news media and talk shows, even though these are symptoms of the very condition for which they adored him.

But the inconsistencies persist. They are not all metaphysical: how is it that those who long to know of Otto's mysterious early life never think until after he has died that 'Otto Bloom' might not be his real name? If these had been handled more deftly, this could have been a strong film. Rather than a silly one.


Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is editor of Eureka Street.



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