Experimental sci-fi films are always a challenge to watch for the simple-minded, like me. What they do, compared to standard narratives, is to engage you with what’s happening on the screen both visually and intellectually. The challenge for filmmakers is not to snap that tenuous mental connection with the audience, otherwise, lose them altogether. Marcus McMahon’s A Helical is one of those films with one of those tenuous connections.
A Helical, ironically, opens with a helical—a series of computer-generated patterns in the form of a helix spiral. Our protagonist is a lone traveler (Marcus McMahon), who finds himself on what can be described as an impressive structure in the middle of nowhere. He then walks through a series of patterns, including a pathway of pyramids.
“…the traveler declares, ‘I am my own self’s course.'”
After a brief stop, the traveler is visited with a rather sizeable floating head, who welcomes him, but knows he has been there before. The two discuss the infinite number of directions he can take, at which point the traveler declares, “I am my own self’s course.” His journey then takes him to a familiar home and then onto the streets of an urban city.
A common theme running through the short is “patterns.” The traveler walks through patterns; his life is a pattern…he is a pattern. Everyone he meets along the way reinforced this theme. Some patterns he comes across are visual and others are a series of behaviors. They start simple and progress in complexity by the end. McMahon creates several interesting Escher-type effects.
A Helical is a thinker of a short, and I’ll admit, I’m still thinking about it as I write this. My interpretation of the short may also be wrong. There are a lot of layers presented, and ultimately the question is, “how much work are you willing to put into it?” Admittedly, thinking about short films is my job, but to the average audience, success depends on the individual’s level of interest. I think the visuals are exciting and compelling as it accompanies a larger mystery/metaphor to uncover.
A Helical is a fascinating watch, but you’ll need to put some work into it.
"…a thinker of a short, and I’ll admit, I’m still thinking about it..."