Coherence (2013)

*. I’ve heard that it drives physicists crazy when they see what pop culture does with science. One of the worst examples is what’s been made of the uncertainty principle, which is often adopted as just meaning that all truth is relative and we can never really know anything.
*. We shouldn’t be too hard then on the group of boho friends who have gathered for a dinner party in Coherence, only to find that a passing comet has turned their reality into a plate of spaghetti. A book on physics with a note on coherence is consulted but explains nothing.
*. Let’s face it, even if there were some mathematical explanation for what is going on here, none of these people would be able to understand it. Nor would we. But that needn’t bother us because I don’t think anything in the premise is supposed to make us think it is capable of being understood. Why, for example, would a passing comet have this effect? No reason at all.
*. Nor is there a logical way for Em (Emily Baldoni), or any of the other people present, to disentangle the mess they’re in. If timelines are being randomly scrambled every time they go outside and into the darkness, then surely there’s no way to go home because home will always be something (somewhere, some time) different. The idea that there is an explanation or map to all of this is chimerical. Em’s solution is just making the best of what has become a hopelessly irresolvable situation.
*. Does all this mean that Coherence is trying to pass itself off as smarter than it really is? Probably, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s still entertaining, just not worth thinking about too much. You could go through it all and try to diagram what’s happening with reference to the various recurring props and blackouts, but I’ve read some attempts at this and none of them seem to lead anywhere. Is that her on the phone at the end? Or is it Robert Blake?
*. In other words, this is a puzzle without a solution, the classic exemplars of the form being L’Avventura and Picnic at Hanging Rock. Or maybe A Passage to India, though I’m not as fond of that movie. In E. M. Forster’s novel he made a distinction between a mystery, which involves a hidden purpose or meaning, and a muddle, which is more a chaotic mess. Using this language, I’m inclined to describe Coherence as a muddle, like that plate of spaghetti I mentioned.
*. If there is a point, it’s that we all carry within us different selves that may be completely contradictory but which, given the right (or wrong) circumstances will be expressed. Em isn’t a good person or a killer but both. We are all filled with such potential.
*. Yes, this is yet another recent movie where the beautiful young woman is revealed to be a violent, indeed homicidal psychopath. She’s a character who seems to be coming up a lot lately. The natural evolution of the Last Girl? Meaning a woman who, after learning to fight for herself, has developed a taste for blood? One for the culture files.
*. Overall this is a fun little movie that makes the most of its very limited scope. But given that it’s basically just a group of people talking in a single location I thought the talk needed to be a bit better. Writer-director James Ward Byrkit goes for a handheld freestyle approach that has the voices and faces constantly drifting in and out of focus. This might have been annoying, but even on re-watching it I found that nothing important was being said anyway. Was there a lot of improvisation? That might help convey the sense of confusion overtaking everyone, but it also adds to the feeling of drift. I’ll confess I started to lose interest in the situation about halfway through.
*. Perhaps another genre to think of here is that of the escape room or what I’ve called the Game of Death: a group of characters trapped in a situation they can’t understand and that may never be explained to them or us. The box and the discovery of clues seem like variations on the notes left by the Jigsaw killer. And as usual the group starts to crack up and the friends fall out as the pressure rises.
*. A diversion, and well presented in most respects. I don’t think it finally adds up to much beyond the various genre elements I’ve mentioned, but then that may be the point. Eight characters then, in search of . . . an author? Or the meaning of life?

5 thoughts on “Coherence (2013)

  1. tensecondsfromnow

    Totally agree; this is a neat little B movie with ideas above its station. Deserves to be recommended; and yes, not keen on A Passage to India, but you’re right, there’s a similar trope about a missing moment or two that transforms the lives of the characters…

    1. Alex Good Post author

      I tracked this one down on your recommendation. Thanks! It is worth a watch. But we have to talk about your recommendation of Bill & Ted Face the Music . . .


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