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Part of our coverage of the 27th Denver International Film Festival

Science Fiction takes a long time to warm up. It was only after the first half hour that I was comfortable with the characters, and the movie was nearly half over before I stopped minding that it was shot on video, often without a tripod. Luckily I stuck with it, because once it starts in earnest, Science Fiction is an engaging character drama with an interesting hypothetical twist.

The World Forgets

Marius and Jorg "buy" new suits in Science Fiction
Marius and Jorg “buy” new suits in Science Fiction

There are two central characters in Science Fiction. Jörg (Arved Birnbaum) attends a self-improvement seminar. His obese frame and shy, awkward demeanor make him the runt of the class, the rest of whom are dressed and coiffed for business. Marius (Jan Henrik Stahlberg) leads the seminar, trying to pick up the hottest female pupils and trying hard to distance himself from the loser Jörg.

While Marius is coaching Jörg on one of the seminar’s concentration techniques, they get displaced into an parallel universe and can’t find their way back.

In this universe — also set in the modern day, but with different people — Jörg and Marius are normal, regular people, with one exception. They are completely forgotten by the rest of this universe’s inhabitants as soon as a door closes between them and the rest of the world. Marius demonstrates by kicking an unsuspecting bystander, and then closing the glass restaurant door that separates them. The bystander continues as though nothing happened.

The gag is mildly interesting at first, but the longer they spend in this universe, the more profound the implications become.

World Without Rules

The ultimate effect is largely the same as in Harold Ramis’ great comedy Groundhog Day (or Adam Sandler’s 50 First Dates, if you prefer). Their unique talent for disappearing helps them shoplift. Just make it out of the shop and close the door and that necktie is as good as yours.

The way they use their talent reveals much about their characters. Marius tries to pick up chicks, picks fights, and humiliate passersby for fun. Jörg, whose wife and daughter don’t exist in this universe, doesn’t take advantage of the strange “door” rule the way Marius does. He seems more perplexed by it, and tries to find a way to break the cycle. He eventually takes a liking to Anya, a woman who works at the hotel, but he doesn’t take advantage of his unlimited “first impressions” to practice his pickup line. What he does is stick with her, hoping to break through into her memory somehow.

The key conflict of the film comes when Marius tries to “steal” Anya from Jörg. In a world built for one-night stands, Marius cruelly decides he’d rather one-up his only long-term friend.

Lessons and Endings

Unlike Groundhog Day, Science Fiction doesn’t seem to have a karmic message. There’s no satisfying reason to end the story, other than the demands of a feature film. Maybe the capricious universe teaches Jörg and Marius both a lesson, but it’s not nearly as satisfying as Bill Murray’s epiphany.

So Science Fiction has several strikes against it — a cheap look, a rocky start, a relatively weak ending. And yet, Science Fiction is worth watching because it is so engaging in the middle, its characters are so well drawn that you can really care about them, and a story that makes you want to — demand to — know what will happen to your two newest friends, Jörg and Marius.