Streamline: an intriguing exploration of virtual simulation to heal and to deceive

Dan Marcus, “Streamline” (2014)

Here is an intriguing if perhaps confusing short film about how a man, Max (Joel Reitsma), tries to repair his relationship with his father (Bruce Edwin Moore) and forgives him for two traumatic events during his childhood: the death of his mother in a car crash, which also affects Max, and a later incident in which Max nearly drowns at his father’s hand. The incidents are recreated in repeated, fragmentary form throughout the film as Max and his father address each other with the help of Dr Gettler (Cheryl Graeff). As the film progresses, there are indications that the ways in which Max and his father meet and address each other are not for real and that they are actually meeting in a simulation. The film eventually reveals that in fact Max and his father are communicating in a simulation designed and programmed by Dr Gettler herself, who calls this simulation Mnemosyne (after the ancient Greek goddess of memory) to retrieve stored memories and to reshape them to help patients use them and come to terms with the pain, trauma and disadvantage that past incidents have cause them. The film reveals that Max’s pain is more than emotional and psychological – it is physical as well.

The film has beautiful, serene cinematography in parts that contrasts strongly with the emotions and in particular the anger and contempt that Max feels for his father for having ruined his life. Through Mnemosyne, Max comes (perhaps) to a slightly better understanding of why his father did what he did, and how inadequate and lost his father felt after the loss of the mother. Max is left with the choice of accepting his pain and limitations and forgiving his father – or continuing to rage at the older man for not being a better and more caring father. There is some over-acting from the male characters but some of it is in keeping with the overwhelming emotions they both feel: anger and scorn on Max’s part, and regret on the father’s part.

It may seem that using the Mnemosyne simulation has helped Max to a certain level but from there, he must make choices that the simulation – even after it has planted a false memory into Max’s brain to help him heal and manage his pain – cannot do. The film appropriately ends with Max alone, having to decide whether he will continue facing his pain (as those dead who, in the ancient Greek myth, drank from the River Mnemosyne) or deal with it through selective memorisation and false memory (like those who drank from the River Lethe to forget their troubles).

Viewers are left to wonder whether the Mnemosyne simulation might be used by unscrupulous psychologists and psychiatrists to forcibly change people’s memories of events that governments and corporations might prefer they forget, when Dr Gettler appears on commercial television to promote her simulation while Max is left on his own contemplating the limitations of her product.