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Black man in bed suffering from insomnia and sleep disorder
Black man in bed suffering from insomnia and sleep disorder

Sci-fi Saturday: What If Sleep Were a Distant Memory?

In a world going mad and dying from insomnia, a young woman may have a cure

“Don’t Forget to Remember” at DUST by Tom Rotenberg (February 23, 2021, 14:50 min) “A young woman must traverse an alternate dimension in order to save the world from a fatal form of insomnia.”

(A flashing lights warning is posted. One might add a language warning.)

The big challenge in writing about insomnia is not to contribute to it. The harrowing opening scene of this film clears that bar.

We are asked to picture a world in which all humans have gone eight months without sleep and will eventually die in consequence. The government rations sleeping pills but that can’t go on indefinitely.

The woman who is chosen to save humanity is guided by the outwardly inaudible voices of those who tried and failed, betrayed by a corrupt boss. The scenes put one in mind of concerns about government handing of COVID-19.

A number of viewers complained in the comments box that they could not understand what was happening toward the end. One commenter offers, “It seems as though good memories induce a relaxed state which therefore reset the sleep cycle. It’s as if to say the world has become so chaotic and so overwhelming that we have forgotten how to do the littlest things, like sleep soundly without worry. These people live in a future were tranquility has become a commodity. Excellent work.”

That sounds like a plausible interpretation but, if so, the theme could certainly have been made clearer. Apart from that, this film is really something of a folk tale rather than science fiction and is best enjoyed that way. The role of the talisman, for example, the disembodied voices, and the “other world” that the heroine enters clearly belong to the realm of magic. A science-based account of why no one can sleep, what difference the alternative reality makes, or why all humans would be affected by one human’s quest is not on offer.

That said, the film’s atmosphere is well done and worth the watch. No spoilers but the ending makes clear that we may expect a sequel. A good opportunity to tie up loose ends.

Incidentally, speaking of science, can people die without sleep in the world we know? Possibly. Here’s Healthline: “Eventually, your brain will begin to stop functioning properly, which can lead to organ failure and, in rare cases, death. Plus, your risk of having some kind of accident skyrockets.”

Fortunately, most of us do not have a lot of experience with that and we must hope we never do.

Note: This film actually debuted in June 2020 (at 17 min) but seems to have made its way to DUST eight months later.

Other reviews from the “We are but DUST” files:

Sci-Fi Saturday: When virtual friends are a real addiction This animated short begins with the thirtieth birthday party of a rather glum young man.
As is the way with addicts, our hero cannot use his futurist fix for loneliness responsibly and ends up doing desperate things.

Sci-Fi Saturday: Watch what you wish for. There IS a tomorrow! Carl, a lonely guy, is determined to proceed through the warning and try the Luvsik procedure, to make him fall in love at first sight. The short film features strong performances by Momo Dione and Samantha Lester, and the surprise ending avoids cliché.

Sci-Fi Saturday: We have met the aliens and they are… comb jellies. The alien life form, when it appears, is very well imagined.
Definitely watch it for the sense of isolation when our technology bubble evaporates and for the “comb jelly” space alien.

Sci-fi Saturday: The disabled robot vet gets a job grooming cats. Definitely worth your five minutes, in part in order to see what cartoonists can do in sci-fi with animated stills. In a research paper, Max Planck scientists concluded that it is not possible to hobble the danger from intelligent AI. This film offers a good illustration.

Sci-fi Saturday: A girl with kinetic powers faces a choice. Should she help relatives with activities she knows to be wrong? “Kinetic” is well executed but it breaks a fundamental rule of science fiction: There must be a clear science basis for the story premise.

Sci-fi Saturday: An asteroid lingers near Earth and devours time Or, at any rate, it devours our perception of time, as one man discovers. Flyby: As the asteroid Chrono-7 hazes Earth, a man wakes up in the morning to find that he is living in his future, one he had never imagined.

Sci-fi Saturday: A robot helps an old fellow rediscover life The robot is very well done and how he gets a name is charming. Lots of people abandon their elderly relatives, of course, so finding a helpful robot in the back yard is a pleasant fantasy.

Sci-fi Saturday: What if an old man could see his mother again? It is a hard film to watch if you lost a loved one, but worthwhile. The old man is paying to use his own memories, retrieved via neuroscience imaging.

Sci Fi Saturday: A fight for the winning ticket In a 2040 superstorm, engulfing the planet, a young woman gets hold of a ticket out. But does the way out really exist? Or is she just hanging on and clinging to a fragile hope?

Sci Fi Saturday: Terrified by a Scrap Monster Well, if you have never been terrified by a Scrap Monster, you are clearly missing out. It’s fun watching a middle class South Korean business executive try to cope with the Scrap Monster.

Sci Fi Saturday: What if there were serious wars over clouds? In a world that still has technology but is desperately short of water, such wars could happen. The short sci-fi film Oceanmaker features pirates who steal precious water from the clouds and a pilot who challenges them

Sci Fi Saturday: Can video games save a lone survivor? The film features fine animations of apocalyptic scenes of post-civilization. The “game” that turns out to be an existential struggle usually benefits from a longer treatment but the animation is well imagined.

Sci Fi Saturday: Can a Robot Find a Better Planet Than Earth? The trouble is, the robot is governed by Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics. After 55 habitable planets, the—by then very old—fellow is beginning to suspect something about the robot’s judgment.

Sci Fi Saturday: Kiko: A great short but key questions unanswered A lonely retail service robot longs for a world beyond her store. An agreeable short but it never addresses the question of how Charlie acquired a robot that would “want” something different than its programming.

Sci-fi Saturday: What if next-stage evolution children appear?A sci-fi short from Sri Lanka looks at the possibilities. The story is very well done as a parable of the social risks of continuous internal warfare.

Sci-Fi Saturday: Can parents get back a dead child as an android? They aren’t even united in their grief; they just think they must “do something” to get back a facsimile of what they remember. They have no philosophical or spiritual resources to fall back on in order to avoid this dead end.

Sci-Fi Saturday film: The robot tries to learn about grief An elderly woman buys a robot to help her when she finds herself all alone, due to tragedy. Investigating the woman’s unhappiness, the robot discovers more than it was, perhaps, intended to know.

Sci-Fi Saturday film: “Speed of Time” at DUST A computer nerd writing a pizza delivery program discovers that his work is way more important than he, or anyone, thought. Imagine what happens when an accomplished ground warrior busts in from another time on a quiet family at the breakfast table…

Sci-Fi Saturday film: “Alone” at DUST. Space engineer Kaya Torres, the only survivor of a black hole, contacts an “interstellar penpal” to keep her company until she dies. She manages a desperate escape but then experiences one of the astonishing implications of time travel.

Sci-Fi Saturday film: “The Beacon” at DUST. Refreshingly realistic, especially the harrowing Arctic encounter where the grieving husband finds out what really happened. Not to be missed is Mark’s encounter with the bureaucrat from hell.

Sci-fi Saturday film: Rescuing lost people. Animated, in French, with English subtitles, but don’t let that deter you. The professional relationships sound pretty real and make it worth the watch. The animation is very good.

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Sci-fi Saturday: What If Sleep Were a Distant Memory?