When will scientists learn to leave well enough alone?

Dr. Ethan Kochar (Sathya Sridharan) works on the machine he hopes will allow him to isolate parts of his personality.

By Richard Ades

Do you like an intellectual challenge? Then Minor Premise may be the film for you.

Do you like an intellectual challenge with a reward at the end? Then maybe it’s not the film for you—or maybe it is, depending on how you interpret the puzzling finale.

Eric Schultz, adapting and directing a story originally written by Thomas Torrey and Justin Moretto, has created a real brain teaser that has to do with—well, the brain. It centers on Ethan Kochar (Sathya Sridharan), a neuroscientist who’s trying to build on his late father’s work by creating a machine that allows a person to control his or her consciousness.

Ethan hopes the gizmo will help him isolate his intellect from other parts of his personality in order to aid his research. But, of course, something goes wrong, as he could have predicted if only he’d read Robert Louis Stevenson’s cautionary tale about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Ethan succeeds in isolating his intellect, but he also isolates nine other aspects of his personality, which then take turns controlling his body for intervals of six minutes each.

Complicating an already complicated situation, each version of Ethan has no memory of what the others have done, forcing him to rely on security cameras and other aids to figure out what’s going on. Fortunately for him, former girlfriend and fellow neuroscientist Alli Fisher (Paton Ashbrook) soon drops by and offers to help him sort things out.

Dr. Alli Fisher (Paton Ashbrook) helps Ethan chart the personality traits that take turns controlling him, though they haven’t quite figured out No. 8.

As difficult as it is for Ethan to understand his bizarre predicament, it’s nearly as hard for viewers, as Schultz likes to make sudden jumps in time and sometimes throws in flashbacks depicting the scientist’s difficult relationship with his late father (Nikolas Kontomanolis) and others. But once we grasp that each hour of Ethan’s life is now divided into six-minute segments respectively dominated by traits such as anger, libido and creativity, it’s kind of fun to guess how he’ll react to each—and whether he and Alli will find a way to end the relentless cycle.

In an attempt to add humanity to this overtly cerebral tale, Schultz suggests that at least some elements of Ethan’s psyche don’t want to return to normal, since normal is being a recluse whose suspicion and self-centeredness have alienated him from people who’ve tried to help him. This tack would work better if the flick’s frenzied style didn’t make it so hard to know and care about the scientist.

But a bigger problem is an ending that will leave many viewers wondering just what happened and how they’re supposed to feel about it. After sitting through a film that forces us to work so hard, it’s kind of a bummer.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

Minor Premise (no MPAA rating) is available beginning Dec. 4 through theaters, virtual cinemas and VOD outlets.

Author: Richard Ades

Richard Ades was the arts editor of The Other Paper, a weekly news-and-entertainment publication, from 2008 until it was shut down on Jan. 31, 2013. He also served as TOP's theater critic throughout its 22-year existence.

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