Manipulating the fabric of time usually causes everything to unravel, but that’s a possibility that Sophie (Judy Greer) is more than willing to risk. The past eight months of her life have been defined by suffocating loss: after her husband, Malcolm (Edi Gathegi), was killed by a drunk driver, she’s struggled to stay afloat. Long shifts in hospice care — and an even longer court battle with the man who destroyed her life — have driven her beyond her wits’ end.
Her young daughter Riley (Faithe Herman) isn’t faring much better. She’s skipping classes, starting fights with her mother, and alienating herself from the life she once loved. Malcolm was the glue that held their family together, but Sophie and Riley still have one lifeline in the form of Jabir (Payman Maadi), Malcom’s closest friend.
Jabir is mourning a past life as well: a tumultuous dictatorship in his native country saw the demise of his entire family. Like Malcolm, he’s a talented physicist; his thirst for retribution enables him to put those talents to brilliant use. He’s been quietly building a time machine for years, and though he’s not able to send a person back in time just yet, his machine does have another dubious purpose. Given the proper data, this machine can displace particles in the past — and take someone’s life in the process.
Sophie finds herself faced with an impossible dilemma: is she willing to let someone else die in order to bring her husband back from the dead? The decision isn’t one to be taken lightly, but it’s one that sci-fi fans are likely familiar with. Aporia is not the first to explore the ramifications of time travel; causality and ethics are two of the genre’s defining quirks. Fortunately, director Jared Moshé isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel here. His approach to this sci-fi premise isn’t new by any stretch, but Aporia really shines when exploring what it means to be a family, to be content, and to be mortal — all through a lowkey genre lens.
That Sophie eventually chooses to use Jabir’s machine, and that it actually works, is not Aporia’s biggest revelation. While Sophie’s ecstatic to find her family restored, she knows it’s come at another’s expense. She can’t help but check in on Darby’s widow, and she’s shocked to see how her life — and the life of her young daughter — has become more difficult in this new timeline. Their good deed comes with uncomfortable consequences, and it forces Sophie, Jabir, and the newly-resurrected Malcolm into another moral dilemma.
Do they risk taking another life to rewrite reality once more? In a way, they have the power to fix so many issues, to save lives and prevent major tragedies before they happen. But they also create a new timeline with each use of the machine — and they’re the only ones who remember the world as it was. The more they change, the less recognizable their lives become, and the less content they feel in their new realities.
Aporia’s unlikely trio find themselves each playing God in their own ways. Their unique brand of vigilantism does eventually produce a few sillier outcomes, but their choices always bring them back to the film’s eponymous issue. To experience “aporia” is to face a perpetual internal contradiction — and it’s not something unique to Moshé’s protagonists. Our own world is one obsessed with hypotheticals and alternate realities, one unable to grapple with regret. But it’s a natural part of life, and no one has the power to erase it. No one can run from it.
Ultimately, it all comes down to a question of contentment. Though Sophie doesn’t learn this lesson until it’s too late (and an Inception-like ending doesn’t fully commit to it), the thesis is pretty clear: Happy endings are hard to come by, and they don’t always last forever. But the memory of it is better than never having experienced it at all.
On paper, that can be a depressing concept, but Moshé’s lo-fi worldbuilding keeps Aporia from sinking in the depths of its own despair. It also allows the film to join the ranks of other small-scale sci-fi dramas, like Fast Color or Wander Darkly. All are light on the thrills and keen on contemplation, but it’s nice to encounter a multiverse that actually makes you think once in a while.