‘Another End’ Review: Gael García Bernal and Renate Reinsve Look for Love After Death in a Lifeless Sci-Fi Drama

Liem Soeng

‘Another End’ Review: Gael García Bernal and Renate Reinsve Look for Love After Death in a Lifeless Sci-Fi Drama
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Good news: Death is not the end of love any more than love is the end of death. On the contrary, you might find that losing someone can help you to find them in places you never thought to look when they were alive; distance can allow for clarity, and that clarity can allow for a new kind of closeness. 

Bad news: That process is fraught with unanswerable questions, and we’re thinking up weird new ones to ask every day. Once upon a time you could leave it at: “How are you supposed to achieve closure when death opens so many doors to potential discovery?” Now, with the endless amount of digital artifacts we all carry in our pockets and the nascent promise that A.I. might be able to preserve someone’s consciousness for centuries to come, technology has compelled us to consider the practical applications of thought experiments that once felt like exercises in science fiction. 

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What connects us to the people we care about? More to the point: If we can love someone without their body, could we love them in a different body, or will we be forced to acknowledge that some aspect of our ghosts is ultimately impossible to separate from their shells? 

Piero Messina’s “Another End” isn’t nearly as unsettled on those subjects as the vagaries of its storytelling might lead you to believe. Set in an alternate present where a dead person’s consciousness can be uploaded into the body of a willing host (for a limited time, and only under the careful supervision of the mysterious corporation that regulates this tech), this moribund, “Black Mirror”-esque cautionary tale never gives us any reason to suspect that its magic tech might be able to undo the heartache of the human condition, or even to soften it.

“Another End” isn’t shy about that. In fact, the only truly piercing moment of Messina’s patchy script comes when one of the scientists at Another End admits that the program is really just pain relief disguised as therapy. In a gauzy movie that struggles to dramatize our species’ gift for self-deception, that confession cuts a lot deeper than any other part of the high-concept premise designed to provoke it. 

It’s a premise intended to make denial seem as tempting and well-regulated as possible (in spite of the obvious complications that come with it), and it certainly does that. Played by a shellshocked Gael García Bernal, whose undetailed role and flat performance are both hamstrung by a plot twist that withholds key information until long after you’ve lost interest, Sal is suicidal in the aftermath of the car crash that killed his girlfriend, Zoe. Unsurprisingly, he finds new reason to live when his sister (Bérénice Bejo as Ebe), who works at Another End, repackages Zoe’s consciousness into a host who looks like a dead ringer for Renate Reinsve. This movie might take place in a dreary-as-hell nowhere city where it’s always raining or threatening to start, but at least the social services are pretty solid (or is Another End a private enterprise?). 

Sure, Zoe 2.0 is a bit taller than the original, and sure, she comes with all of the same insecurities and resentments that Sal’s ex had in her head on the day she died, but the deal is still too good for any grief-stricken man to refuse. “Zoe” arrives in the morning, Another End retrieves her body when she goes to sleep at night, and the only condition on the rental is that Sal cannot — under any circumstances — let his guest know that she’s dead, as the cognitive dissonance would cause some kind of psychic collapse. It’s a strange experiment to be sure, but what’s the harm in trying to get a little closure? It’s not like Sal is going to be so confused by his feelings for the hybrid creature in his apartment that he becomes obsessed with her while also completely spiraling out at the same time or anything. 

Needless to say, the Another End program triggers a handful of concerns, some of which this movie is more interested in addressing than others. The screenplay — credited to Messina, Giacomo Bendotti, Valentina Gaddi, and Sebastiano Melloni — plays far too fast and loose with the world-building for a story that’s willing to do so little of it. How big is the company behind Another End, and how long have they been in business? Has this become as commonplace as the airplane hanger full of host bodies would suggest, or is it still in the experimental stage? If the uploading process is as seamless as reverting to a save file, why doesn’t Zoe notice that she’s transformed into Renate Reinsve? Ghost stories have long suggested that denial is a force stronger than death, but that same notion doesn’t quite compute when it’s processed this literally. 

Sustaining disbelief would be a lot easier if the dynamic between Sal and Zoe were more nuanced, but “Another End” takes a numbing approach to its interpersonal drama, and its characters are seldom allowed to develop beyond the concepts they’re meant to embody — hosts or not, they all feel like simulations. By dint of the situation, Sal is forced to shoulder his feelings in silence, as sharing them with Zoe, who naturally acts as if there’s nothing amiss, would be akin to a murder. 

In lieu of developing that relationship, or even unpacking the strain it might have been under before the accident, “Another End” simply sits with the strangeness of its scenario and soaks the whole thing with some forlorn jazz over the soundtrack. One scene finds Sal and Zoe having a meal with her parents, who struggle to sustain their own disbelief, while another features an Another End technician giving Ebe a helpful lecture about bistable images, which are capable of being perceived in two ways — but never at the same time. The same is true of people, of course. Sal’s host can be Zoe or the woman whose body she’s occupying, but not both. Sal can be with his ex or look for a fresh start, but not both. 

And what would that fresh start mean? “Another End” tempts us to wonder what kind of person would volunteer their body as a host, knowing full well they wouldn’t have any control over what happened to it until the end of their shift? We see a woman agreeing to full sexual consent, but this isn’t necessarily sex work so much as oblivion. If Messina displays a keen interest in how bodies hold memories in ways that our minds cannot, that interest is explored across the second half of this movie with a tedium that’s only redeemed by the wounded elusiveness of Reinsve’s performance. The characters here are as broad as the ideas that bring them to life, and those ideas are in turn as bare as the city that provides a backdrop for them (an inane sequence set in a stripclub is at least redeemed by the sudden jolt of sparkle it brings to a world that’s otherwise sucked dry by flat dull colors and flat images). 

“Another End” knows that we’ll never stop trying to cheat death (or at least to deny it for as long as we can), but Messina’s film is so entranced by the dull flame of that desire that it fails to consider what it might illuminate about the darkness that surrounds it. Much like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” which this perpetually overcast movie resembles in broad strokes, this is a story about people who go to great lengths in search of a shortcut, only to find themselves on a long and winding road right back to where they started. Both films warn against the futility of avoiding heartache, but the weird new form of emotional surrogacy that “Another End” introduces doesn’t leave any room for daylight to spill through the cracks. There’s no mistaking that it’s less of a solution to a problem than a problem unto itself, and it’s a problem this movie never gives itself a chance to see clearly, let alone to solve.  

Grade: C

“Another End” premiered at the 2024 Berlin International Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.

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