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'Aporia' writer-director Jared Moshe talks time travel rules, sci-fi, and making the audience care

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‘Aporia’ writer-director Jared Moshe talks time travel rules, sci-fi, and making the audience care

“I hate the ‘Friends’ effect.”

Aporia made its World Premiere at the recently concluded Fantasia Film Festival to critical fanfare. The emotional story is about a woman whose husband was killed in a drunk driving accident. When she learns of a way to bring him back, she must make a difficult decision. It is an age old question in time travel stories, but writer-director Jared Moshe tells a very human story about choices and consequences. He spoke with AIPT about the film.

AIPT: What was the inspiration behind Aporia?  

Jared Moshe: The inspiration came from two places, two different things. I’d had this random idea of a gun that could murder people in the past for a while, and I didn’t know what the hell to do with it because it just felt so big and trope-y. So I just had written it down and put it away. I forgot about it for a little bit. Then I became a dad. I was writing this. My son had just turned one. We were finishing The Ballad of Lefty Brown up.  

I suddenly felt like the world had become a lot more scary and a lot more uncertain. I felt this overwhelming urge to try to control things, to try to keep him safe, and to protect him from everything out there. Uncertainty, I could feel it everywhere. It terrified me. It was hard. It was something I was trying to grapple with, and I really didn’t know how. 

I guess, as an artist, sometimes the best way to grapple and wrestle with stuff like this is via art. So, I decided I would try to put it into a story. Then, as I was trying to figure out how to do that, I remembered that old gun that could murder people in the past.  I was like, “What if we keep this really intimate and have it be a story about a person who uses this crazy invention to try to get back to a life that she feels safe in, that she feels like she can control, where there’s nothing to be uncertain about, where it’s just like, ‘I know this, it’s comfortable,’ and the repercussions of that?” That’s really where the story came from.  

AIPT: How important was it for you to tell that human story?  

Moshe: The human story was key for me. I think, to me, it’s a big story about sci-fi, and then it’s all about the weird things that happen. The giant world changes, to me, is much less emotionally resonant to audiences, and much less impactful than actually telling a story about people wrestling with this crazy machine and the realities they’re creating and the realities of using it.  

I always wanted the film to feel intimate. I always wanted to shoot it in a way that felt intimate. There was no question. If I had all the millions in the world, I would still shoot it in the same style, handheld, raw, embracing operator errors, making it feel rough around the edges. To me, I wanted it to feel intimate and real and like this is actually going on, could be going on in some random neighborhood that you wouldn’t look at twice. That was really important to me.  

AIPT: So you knew pretty early on that special effects weren’t going to be a big part of this?  

Moshe: Yes. I did not want to do a big special effects. I remember at some point in the writing process, someone’s like, “What about showing how the machine works and watching people die?” I was just like, “That’s not interesting to me. What’s interesting is the reality of the effect of the people.” It’s always more interesting to me to watch someone make a decision and deal with the repercussions of that decision. I always wanted that to be a part of it. It turned out there were more VFX shots in the movie than I actually wanted to even have because I didn’t realize you had to do phone replacements. I’ve only made Westerns before this.  

AIPT: In a lot of sci-fi stories, especially when there’s time bending in it, it’s really hectic. In this, there’s that same sense of urgency, but the spaces are small and intimate. Was that something that came about intentionally, or was it just a part of the filming?  

Moshe: It was totally meant to be intentional. In terms of the intimacy of the spaces. I always hate it when you have that Friends effect, when they’re supposed to be a working waitress, but they live in giant apartments and stuff. So we wanted to shoot on location, and I wanted it to feel like these people were just living month to month, struggling to get by. So the spaces had to be small. There had to be intimate.  

Pacing-wise, there was an urgency to the story that needed to be conveyed, but I didn’t want the urgency to come at the sake of the emotions that the characters were wrestling with, because there were no easy choices in this. There are no villains in this. No one is right all the time. No one is wrong all the time. They’re people making really tough decisions with incomplete information, trying to do the right thing as they can understand it, as they can conceive of it.  

I think when you have that level of emotional complexity in your characters, I think it’s really important to give them space, and not sacrifice those moments where seeing them wrestle with things, seeing them make the decisions, because I think that’s where the emotional truth can come through.  

AIPT: In time travel stories, there’s lots of handholding. There has to be; it’s theoretical. But in this, it’s very little handholding whatsoever. Were you ever afraid that you might lose the audience?  

Moshe: Yeah, I was. I think it helped that I set up the rules really clearly. That was something I always wanted, to just set up really basic rules on how this machine worked, that it could only kill people, that there’s no undo button, you can’t unkill someone. Then you remember that if you use the machine, you remember the original reality, not the new one you created. Those were the rules. Having those clear rules at the beginning, at the get-go, were really important. 

One thing that I realized pretty early on in the process, as we were putting the movie together, was that I became the godfather of explaining the realities and making sure everything was right so people understood where we were moving. So what I did with my production design team and my DP is we created a reality guide, saying like, “This is the reality, this is the world, these are what changed in their life, this is where we want to play with that,” so that everyone knew what reality we were going to be in, so there was a clear vision across the entire team, so that if we all understood it, hopefully, the audience would.  

Then we really tried to schedule it in a way where we were scheduling around realities and worlds they were in, so that the actors didn’t have to yo-yo back and forth between different emotional states, and try to really keep it as clean and concise as possible.  

aporia

AIPT: Sophie and Mal, such great chemistry. They felt real. Did that come across naturally, the chemistry between the actors, or did you have to work on it?  

Moshe: Totally naturally. It’s always nerve wracking when you’re casting a movie like this because you’re making offers to actors. We cast Judy first as Sophie. Judy’s fantastic. I love Judy. She was the dream for that role. She was so, so, so, so good. But I can’t then, like, “All right. I have Judy. Let me audition Mals off of Judy.” It’s like, “Now I have to think about Judy as this actor who’s so expressive. She shows what she’s feeling very vividly and viscerally.”  

I wanted a Mal who was the opposite of that. Edi Gathegi is the type of actor who is very still in his performance, but what he does is he uses his eyes for very small, little movements to convey whole, huge amounts of meetings. And he’s charming. 

When I was finding Payman for Jabir, Payman Maadi is this actor who is one of the most empathetic actors I’ve ever seen. I mean, he feels so much. I remember watching A Separation. He’s not always the best person in that movie, but dear God, do I care about him and everything he does. I know Jabir is a hard character because he could very easily fall into the more villainous role. He’s figured out his morality, and he’s willing to sometimes embrace the unforgivable aspect of what they’re doing. Finding that actor who could embrace that with empathy was really important. 

But then it was incredibly nerve-wracking. We all got together the first time. I was just like, “Oh, my God. Oh, my God. I hope this all works because I don’t know if that chemistry …” But they’re all such giving actors. They’re all such collaborative actors that they all really liked each other and just gave so much when they weren’t on camera. They talked through things together. They worked through things together. We were very close and able to talk about everything. So it created this openness and this connection that I think really came through on the screen. 

Aporia is in theaters now

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