Writer/director Darren Paul Fisher takes this idea one step further in his film FREQUENCIES which takes place in an alternate reality where a person’s individual frequency can be measured and often determines their success in society. In Fisher’s world, this helps explains why some people are just luckier than others; their frequency is more in tune with that of nature. In one sequence, Marie-Curie Fortune, a young woman with off-the-charts frequency, walks across a street not looking, her steps perfectly in time with the seemingly random pattern of traffic. She arrives at the train station just as the train pulls up, finds a £20 as she gets off, and then goes to pick up an item from a store that should not be in until next week, and it just happens to be in. The exact cost works out to be £20. Isn’t that lucky? For these high frequency people, the world just works better. But there is a downside to always getting what you want: Marie-Curie is almost completely incapable of empathy; she has to go through life faking her emotions. People call her ‘the robot.’
On the other hand, Isaac-Newton Midgely has a negative frequency. He never seems to be in the right place at the right time and he can’t even be within five feet of Marie for more than sixty seconds without the universe interceding to bring them apart. Of course, this makes Zak fall madly in love with Marie and he spends his life trying to change his frequency, in other words, change his destiny. Through a series of experiments, he comes across a method of altering the sound in a room to allow he and Marie to meet in the middle somewhere, and, for the first time, Marie is able to feel actual emotions. FREQUENCIES may sound like heady stuff, and it is, but it is, at its heart, a simple love story of boy meets girl. This is a film about fate and whether or not the world is conspiring to keep two people apart. For Fisher, “Frequency equals luck,” it was a nice way of “quantifying the scientific basis of ‘timing’ – these people who always land on their feet and are just lucky people.”
I had a chance to speak Fisher on opening day of his film (since he is in Australia it was actually a day later there, so it wasn’t opening day here if you can wrap your head around that). One of things we discussed in detail was Marie, and the actresses who had to tackle this role (each major character is played by three actors over the life of the film). Because she has no empathy, Marie has a hard time making friends, and basically showing any emotion at all. “You are pretty much taking away one of the most basic tools an actor’s got,” Fisher says of working with his Maries, “now go, run with that.” He experimented with different levels of disassociation even in the audition process and finally “it became very clear to us that if you went the full robot, it just doesn’t work because ultimately it’s not that her emotions aren’t there, they are just suppressed.” Obviously, just by nature of the fact that she ‘wants’ emotions, she is showing an emotional desire. Fisher admits that some of the touchstones for the role come from Star Trek: “people like Spock, people like Data – Data is a robot but if he really went the full robot, you can’t connect. … Marie is binary, she has two states of being really, which is she’s bored or interested.” When we see her as an adult, she’s just bored, there is nothing interesting to her, she’s bottomed, but she’s actually open to something new, an opportunity that Zak presents her. “She’s had success since she was born… her life is meaningless but there is that urge for there to be more.” There is an untapped emotional life that even she as a character is not aware of. Where you can see it, Fisher admits, is in the eyes: “these girls had these tremendous eyes, and they could dial down the emotion — you would say dial it down completely, and they can’t because they’ve got these amazing eyes.” It’s in the eyes maybe where the emotional side of Marie bleeds into the more binary side.
Casting Marie was made more complicated by the vast timeline the film covers. “Essentially we were making three films, you’ve got the kids, you’ve got the teens, and you’ve got the adults,” Fisher says. The actors playing the same role didn’t meet, didn’t rehearse together, didn’t see each other’s performances. “Actors can be so respectful of each other,” he confides, “I didn’t want them to make decisions based on what another actor is doing — I’m the director, let me be the conduit.” If he saw something in rehearsal that he wanted to carry over, then he would, but then the actors weren’t loaded with a lot of other baggage from what their counterparts were doing. There really only ended up being one thing, a very subtle gesture that tapped in, for Marie, to exactly how she, as ‘the robot,’ processed the world, a sort of head dip to one side. “It had the same function for each actor,” Fisher says, “got them in the mood of the tone of the character.” He’s not even sure if the gesture made it into the final cut of the film for each actor, but it was there on set and if there was ever an issue “that was the gesture that would sort of sew them together.” In fact, the adult Marie has very little of the ‘emotionless’ aspect of the character in her sequence, moving very quickly to a sort of child-like wonder of experiencing emotions for the first time.
Which for me, is one of the great joys of the film. Every guy wants to be a girl’s first ‘something.’ In this case, Zak is Marie’s first real smile, her first real emotional relationship. Fisher is very quick to tell me that he’s “a sucker for rom-coms” – his first two films are very much part of that world. But he wanted FREQUENCIES to look at the why rom-coms work, the structure of relationships. “As someone who is sort of useless in getting the girl in life, you become fascinated in the mechanics of that,” he says. “I wanted to play around with this abstract concept in a film but I’m very much about the audience … you have to tell an emotionally engaging story.” So despite this very intricate alternate reality the character inhabit, and all the philosophical ramifications of how their world works, and the geo-political consequences that encroach upon the story in the third act, this is just a film about boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. FREQUENCIES is a very engaging love story that upholds the idea that human emotion can overcome destiny. Or, if you look at it from the other direction, that destiny is the cause of human emotion. It is truly an amazing experience that you can come away from the film both feeling a renewed belief in the power of love and cold scientific realization that actually everything in the world is predetermined. But the reason is the story at the core is so simple. “It had to be the through-line that keeps everything else in check,” Fisher says “if that didn’t work, if that was somehow complex, then it would all fall to pieces.”
This is just a small part of what makes Darren Paul Fisher’s film so remarkable. We didn’t even touch on one of the most mysterious characters in the film, Zak’s best friend Theo whose frequency is completely average and helps Zak design his OXV device [OXV: The Manual was the original title of the film, when I programmed the US Premiere in Austin last October and it won the Dark Matters Jury Award]. I’ve seen the film three times now and every time I notice something new. This is a perfect film to see with someone else, because the conversations afterwards are often as interesting as the film itself (although maybe not a good first date movie ☺).
So on the other side of the world, Fisher is feeling “nervous excited anticipation” (or at least was 22 hours before/after the premiere due to the international date line). “It feels amazing, actually, you sort of pinch yourself” getting a theatrical release in the US, but this is a new era we live in, and FREQUENCIES is getting day and date release on streaming and download platforms as well. Which is perfect, because this film has been “pretested the last nine months at festivals” and there are people across the world asking to see it. And like I said, this is a film that really needs to be seen more than once to get the most out of, it does have a sort of whiplash ending that puts the whole film in perspective. It is completely possible that a savy film like this, may actually make bigger waves 15 weeks after its release than now, as word of mouth spreads.
FREQUENCIES premieres in theatres and digitally today, Friday, May 23rd – and you may have noticed, I don’t ‘rate’ films I review, I only write about the films I love. This film is really original, beautifully shot, directed and performed, and will make you think.