Look to the stars

The Intelligencer (Belleville) - - ENTERTAINMENT - ALEESHA HARRIS Ahar­[email protected] post­media. com

When you look up at the stars, what do you see? Or, per­haps more im­por­tantly, what do you dream?

The search for signs of ex­trater­res­trial life is at the epi­cen­tre of Toronto di­rec­tor Akash Sher­man’s new film Clara. But, it’s not sim­ply that search for signs of life that’s so grip­pingly ex­am­ined in this film. It’s also the rea­son why we’re each look­ing for it in the first place.

“It is a sci- fi drama about an astronomer who is search­ing for signs of life up there, but his own life is kind of fall­ing apart around him,” Sher­man said dur­ing a me­dia day at the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val in Septem­ber.

“He meets a very cu­ri­ous artist named Clara who doesn’t know too much about astronomy but is so fas­ci­nated by the cos­mos and what might be out there. So, the two form a very close bond and they start search­ing to­gether. And might even make a big dis­cov­ery.”

For Sher­man, who also wrote the film, ap­proach­ing the idea of life be­yond Earth from a sci­en­tific per­spec­tive and com­ing from a place of spir­i­tu­al­ity didn’t re­quire two, mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive per­spec­tives.

“For me, it’s not con­tro­ver­sial at all, though I re­al­ize it might be to some,” Sher­man says of the be­lief that there’s life be­yond Earth.

“Me per­son­ally, as the writer of the film, I love sci­ence. I re­ally do. But, there also is that kind of, spir­i­tu­al­ity in think­ing that there might be some­thing out there. And that we’re not alone.

“Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is one of my favourite sci­en­tists, talks about look­ing up at the sky and feel­ing a type of con­nec­tiv­ity that’s al­most spir­i­tual. And I re­ally wanted to touch on that.”

The ti­tle char­ac­ter of Clara, played by Troian Bel­lis­ario of Pretty Lit­tle Liars fame, views the search not from a per­spec­tive of faith but open cu­rios­ity. Mean­while, Is­sac Bruno, played by Suits star ( and Bel­lis­ario’s real- life partner) Pa­trick J. Adams, comes from a purely sci­en­tific mind­set.

“I thought it would be re­ally in­ter­est­ing to have that con­ver­sa­tion be­tween some­one like her and some­one like Isaac’s char­ac­ter, who is very much closed off be­cause of a re­cent trauma,” Sher­man ex­plains.

“And he’s a slave to ra­tio­nal­ity,” Adams says. “He’s a char­ac­ter who’s like, if you can’t prove it to me, then I can’t be­lieve that it ex­ists. Ev­ery day we ex­pe­ri­ence things, mostly in our re­la­tion­ships to other peo­ple, where you can’t ex­plain it. You can’t ex­plain what love is. You can’t ex­plain what the re­la­tion­ship be­tween a mother and son or a fa­ther and a daugh­ter. You can’t ex­plain these things ra­tio­nally. And I think that’s what Clara is there to ser­vice.”

So where do Adams and Sher­man skew on the scale of sci­ence- ver­sus spir­i­tu­al­ity in real life? Some­where a lit­tle in the mid­dle.

“I think I’ve al­ways been more of a re­al­ist, but as I get older and I see things hap­pen that I can’t fully ex­plain, or things that hap­pen in my life or show in my life ex­actly when I need them. There are things that I can’t ex­plain why they hap­pen or how,” Adams says.

“Sci­ence ex­plains what it ex­plains now, but there are things that we don’t un­der­stand. And we know there are things that we don’t un­der­stand. But we are al­ways learn­ing new rules, new pat­terns and new laws for how things work.

“For us to think we get it all now is real hubris.”

Sher­man agrees.

“I’m some­one who loves sci­ence, but is also very op­ti­mistic that there is a lit­tle ex­tra layer of some­thing magic to the uni­verse,” he says.

In ad­di­tion to ex­plor­ing the idea of life be­yond Earth, the film, which was shot in less than 20 days in Toronto, pro­vides a raw view of both love and loss; two themes that are much eas­ier to wrap one’s head around than ex­trater­res­trial life.

“As I was writ­ing this film, I went through a very per­sonal loss. I lost my grand­fa­ther, who was one of my best friends and a very good teacher to me. He taught me how to ride a bike,” Sher­man says.

“That cre­ated a big hole in my uni­verse. And I thought this might be a good place for Isaac’s char­ac­ter to start from.”

That im­mense sense of loss and the re­sult­ing sense of “giv­ing up on the uni­verse,” is where view­ers first find Isaac. Adams pushed Sher­man to al­low him and Belis­sario to ex­plore it to its lim­its.

“Akash had done such a good job of set­ting the frame­work in the ini­tial script I had read, but then the depths of how far these char­ac­ters had gone and could go wasn’t quite there yet,” Adams says.

“A big part of that was me say­ing, you’ve built this. Let’s get in there and go deep. We dis­cussed some of the ways and how deep that could go and how bad it could get,” Adams says. “And hope­fully we, as ac­tors, could fill that.”


Troian Bel­lis­ario in Clara.

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