What is consciousness? Is it the way a mind absorbs information? Is it what religious folks call a soul? Is it something that can be controlled? If one can harness that power, what can be achieved? These are the questions that lie at the heart of Ben Nissen’s feature-length debut, Nowhere Mind.
Ivan (Patriac Coakley) suffers from Schizoaffective disorder and slowly feels his mind is starting to unravel. As a part-time grad student, he learns of a philosopher’s idea of meditation and how it can lead to absolute mastery of one’s mind and body. Hoping this will help him deal with his mental affliction, Ivan begins taking the practices and theories to heart.
One night, while on a break from work, Ivan runs into a friend from his undergrad days. Emily (Casey Searles) and he have a flirtatious back and forth going, building up to Emily asking Ivan out. The next night they go to a bar, but Ivan finds it hard to concentrate amongst all the noise. Considering they picked up right where they left off previously, Emily suggests the duo goes back to her place. After some fun is had, she reveals that she is engaged to Ivan’s former roommate John (Andrew Graves).
“…idea of meditation and how it can lead to absolute mastery of one’s mind…”
Feeling guilty about the incident, Ivan believes he has a genuine connection to Emily. So he keeps seeing her on the sly. John returns home from a business trip abroad, and the to-be-married couple invites Ivan over for drinks. As John and Ivan commiserate over their time in college, John hits upon an inspired idea. He invites Ivan out to John’s planned wilderness excursion. To keep up appearances, Ivan agrees to the multi-day trip, thinking it could be a good way of clearing his mind to meditate.
Beyond that, I will not spoil, but the ways in which Nowhere Mind brings back its original questions and answers them is thrilling. A lot of this has to do with the remarkable cast Nissen assembles for his trippy drama. It is tricky to make a cheating spouse sympathetic without making the significant other an absolute jerk, but such a thing happens here. It is not due to the writing, which is iffy for the first 15 or 20 minutes. It is the charm of Searles, whose smile makes anything she does seem like a good idea. It is the disarming manner in which Coakley avoids several cliches when acting like a man whose mind can’t always be trusted. It is the way Graves is the life of the party, a man who talks about his enormous porn collection in a light-hearted, jovial manner.
These three carry the film over its rough patches. Those issues only extend to character introductions and the rationale for the continuing affair. Thankfully, once the camping begins and Nowhere Mind becomes a cat and mouse game of sorts, things become engrossing and thought-provoking.
“…a cat and mouse game of sorts, things become engrossing and thought-provoking.”
Nissen’s peppering of the lofty ideas held by Ivan is his best choice as a writer. As these thoughts and beliefs get more pronounced in the last act of the film, they don’t come out of thin air. The ending is both devilishly clever and heartbreaking, and having to be so vague about how and why it works is hard. However, ruining the impact of the ending does a disservice to the filmmakers and their goals with Nowhere Mind.
As a director, Nissen fairs very well. While the two scenes of characters drinking (at the bar and John’s place) are shot in a journeyman manner, the intercutting of the experiences Ivan has during meditations livens things up. One night, Ivan believes he switched conscious bodies with a spider. Yes, the audience is treated to a point-of-view scene of being a spider, and it is visually engaging. The way the film edits back and forth between Ivan’s mind betraying him, and Ivan trying to meditate to gain control over his faculties again keeps a sense of urgency running for the whole film.
Ben Nissen’s character introductions are spotty, and that makes relating to the primary roles tough at first. But his directing wrings the right amount of empathy and dramatic tension out of his actors. The cast overcomes all flaws with their outstanding performances, and once Nowhere Mind takes off, it is very satisfying.
Nowhere Mind (2018) Directed by Ben Nissen. Written by Ben Nissen. Starring Patriac Coakley, Casey Searles, Andrew Graves, Armando Reyes, David Scott Crawford.
7 Gummi Bears (out of 10)