Philosophical movies don’t tend to be big blockbusters because, for the most part, they deal with intense and weighty themes. Films about the human condition, limitations, knowledge, and existence fill the genre, all of which don’t often include things like explosions, gun fights, near-rape scenes, and general acts of showy violence. This movie apparently tries to solve that “problem” in its own unique and confusing way.
Let’s take a look at After the Dark.
The film takes places in a philosophy class at an international high school in Jakarta, specifically the final class of the semester. The teacher decides that there is one ultimate scenario: who to save at the end of the world. They run through the scenario three times in three different locations, but each time the people are assigned a role and a characteristic and must choose who will go into the fully stocked bunker and who will remain outside and die. The teacher fixates specifically on the best student in class and her boyfriend, and trying to drive them apart because, surprise surprise, he and said student are having an affair.
In the first scenario, the teacher more or less runs the choosing of who lives but gets locked out by the others, but screws them over by revealing he has the exit code. In the second scenario, they let him into the bunker, only to displease him by not copulating the way he wants to (which, to say the least, is gross) and after almost raping a student, he opens the blast doors and kills everyone inside. In the final scenario, the best student takes over and decides to say goodbye to logic and do what makes them happy, pissing off the instructor even more. After leaving what has to be the most disturbing and unsettling final class ever, the teacher contemplate suicide now that his lover has chosen her boyfriend over him.
So to start, I have a lot of issues with the plot. I know that some people who considered a classroom full of people talking about hypothetical situations and the philosophical implications therein boring (you charlatans) but the acted-out scenario framework is bizarre. We see each scenario play out as though it were actually happening when in reality, they are just sitting around a room talking it through. So then when events occur, does that mean the teacher is explaining all of it and purposively screwing everyone over, making the scenarios unwinable? Does he actually tell a student that because she wants to exercise her bodily autonomy to sleep only with the people she wants, he will rape her? I don’t think that kind of thing flies in the best of colleges, let alone a high school in Indonesia.
The first scenario’s big issue is that after they discover, fairly early on that there needs to be an exit code, they could have spent the years figuring out all possible combinations and trying them all, since they have extra resources once the year is through. This could be because the teacher basically says they starve to death, just narrated in another character’s voice, or that they simply up stupidly.The second scenario’s fault is that the teacher basically ruins it by being a petulant child — he opens the blast door because he didn’t get to rape a girl like he wanted.
The third scenario’s issue is that one of people from the group sees the teacher enter the exit code when opening the door in scenario 2, which makes no sense for two big reasons. One, this is all being talked through so even if the student says she saw the code the teacher could refute it by saying it was a different code, and two, the scenarios are supposed to be separate so how can see an exit code from one scenario function in a different scenario where the previous events and knowledge did not occur and were not learned, respectively?
The screenwriters were clearly more interested in writing an action-thriller with philosophical implications than a philosophical thriller with action thrown in. Still, the dialogue is actually well done (albeit a little formal for some of the teenagers) and moving at times, when it’s not trying to be too clever for its own plot. The casting was well done as the international school is populated by more than just white students, which is more frequent a problem than you think. The actors, mostly former child stars, are solid throughout the film and while it doesn’t require a ton of skill, it certainly helps keep one interested. Of course, special mention must go to James D’Arcy for portrayed the best looking and yet absolutely creepiest high school teacher in 21st century film.
The nicest thing I could say about the film is that it is gorgeous looking. Each location is a stunning arena, and the inside of the bunker is intricately and simply designed. The cinematography is spot on, with gorgeous reds and blues standing out, a strong sense of poetic imagery, and a keen sense of how to best translate emotion through action. If the film were not as visually stunning as it is, I might have been tempted to turn it off when it became clear the theory exercise was a petty swipe at revenge.
After the Dark is a movie with a promising concept that fails on arrival because of the issues with the narrative framework. Thankfully, there’s enough charm to its visuals and actors to keep the audience relatively engaged but this is clearly a story that would have worked best as a novel. If you’re interested in seeing how it all plays out and watching the student interactions, I’d give it a soft recommendation but otherwise I’d either pick something purely action or purely philosophical.
– Good acting/casting.
– Great cinematography.
– Good dialogue and chemistry.
– Major issues with the plot.
– Suspension of disbelief was difficult.