imaginurThose ciplak headsets! They are supposedly high tech equipment meant to aid in hypnosis, but look like they were purchased at ToysRUs or assembled from old washing machine parts. Perhaps their cheap and flimsy nature is meant to symbolise the fragility of the human body and underline how our physical selves are merely vehicles for the memories and emotions that will survive past the deterioration of flesh, skin and bone? What happens then when even memories fail, as happens in old age, especially to those unfortunate enough to fall victim to dementia?

For Zuhal (woodenly played by Beto Kusyairy), his body and his mind (memories) have betrayed him. And those clunky plastic crowns do nothing to add to the story Imaginur is supposedly telling about this man. They were just a terrible distraction, confirmation of the impression I got that Imaginur is simply a clever idea that the writer (Redza Minhat) and director (Nik Amir Mustapha) did not bother to fully explore because they did not, themselves, fully understand it.

It may just be my faulty comprehension skills, but I’m still unclear as to what the film is about, what the main character, Zuhal, is supposed to have achieved at its end. He has Alzheimers and so, his memories and perceptions are all over the place. Although in his dotage, he is portrayed as a young man, but was that the Alzheimer’s or was it the hypno therapy he was undergoing, or both? And what are his sister and neurologist hoping for: To cure him of the disease? To rouse him from his unconscious state? To remind him that he had had a happy marriage so he could die in peace?

His reaction at the end of the film (the senior Zuhal is played by Rahim Razali), his utter delight in recognising his sister (Fatimah Abu Bakar) implies a close relationship with her that is never explored in earlier scenes (the young Isma is played by Nadiya Nissa). The friend with whom I watched the film said she was moved by and curious about this sibling relationship, and she was perceptive enough to recognise its potential as a significant plot point, whereas I was just distracted by the annoyingly kooky girlfriend (Diana Danielle) who gives up her unconventional lifestyle and dreams to become a wife with a permanently affronted expression.

There is zero chemistry between Beto and Diana, and nothing in the characters’ interactions that indicate that they had had a meaningful relationship. Although the narrative is necessarily disjointed to reflect Zuhal’s state of mind, there could and should have been more in the script and acting to reveal the depths of their feelings for one another. As it is, I didn’t care what happened to them and their marriage. Sorry, but a tear-filled eye and a tender embrace are limited in what they are supposed to convey. As emotional triggers they work, but is the audience supposed to rely on their personal experiences to give a film meaning? Shouldn’t a film attempt to add to its viewers’ understanding of a situation even if it offers nothing new to the knowledge of the situation itself?

There is a mental health ad by the MoH that’s currently showing in local cinemas that Imaginur resembles in ‘look and feel’. I feel that, given the incoherence of many Malaysian films, it’s easy to be distracted by the relative smooth flow of Imaginur’s scenes, the fantastic story elements and the eccentric yet ‘lovable’ characters. The audience is tricked by the ‘look and feel’ of the film — the pretty scenery, the non-linear plot, the unconventional female lead — into thinking that the story is more than just a shallow portrayal of old age and memory loss. It looks and feels like an expensive, well-shot advertisement, but Imaginur isn’t an ad. As a film, it’s expected (I expect it) to do more than just touch on a subject and skim the surface of the issues it raises. As mentioned earlier, it’s unclear what the issues even are, and what questions are asked, let alone if any attempt has been made to answer them. By the end of its 90 minutes, I was unconvinced that even its makers know.

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