Thoughts on Polder (2015)

I’m not gonna lie, Polder (2015), a Swiss-German co-production written by Samuel Schwarz and directed by Schwarz and Julian M. Grünthal, is a mess in three languages. The messy sci-fi has sequences in German, Japanese, and Chinese, but the incoherence has less to do with the multilingual conception and more to do with the complicated plot’s lack of context.

The decontextualization is the result of a conscious choice to plunge the viewer in medias res, and the film itself even notes that the main narrative up to that point (and, let’s face it, from that point on, too) is slapdash and uneven. This opacity is supposedly to heighten the twist reveal that the story of Ryuko (Nina Fog) investigating her husband Marcus’s (Christoph Bach) disappearance, and then having to rescue their young son Hans, is in fact an immersive videogame narrative, in which the entire storyline is the subplot. But here’s the thing: Acknowledging that the film is bad itself does not make it better; it just makes it more egregious.

To add insult to insult, Ryuko doesn’t really do much with her newfound self-awareness, nor is the second-level narrative fleshed out to any degree. And then, most unforgivable of all, it’s revealed that even that level is an immersive videogame narrative, this time in the mind of Marcus, forced to pre-test this new game somewhere in China—where the possibility that his brain might fry raises no qualms. And then the film ends.

It doesn’t help that the aesthetics are grimy and shaky and dark, or that even the exposition scenes (or pseudo-exposition scenes, I should say) are presented via convoluted argumentative dialogue. If you’re interested in the subject matter, go see Inception (2010) or the Sword Art Online anime (2012; the 2017 film covers different ground).

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