‘Psi’ filmmaker turned to MIT, Tufts experts to investigate fate, possibility and free will
How many of us live with regret and obsess the road not taken? You know: I should have majored in computer science and earned the big bucks as a World Wide Web warrior for Google or asked out that stunning other I felt an instant connection with on the subway, but instead kept to myself, hesitated for a moment as I exited and always look back. That tease of possibility, greener pastures and true happiness lies at the heart of Olivier Wright’s experimental film “Psi,” which – in post-production now – gets “an early peek” on Wednesday at MIT’s Stata Center.
The film, named after the symbol used in quantum mechanics to represent probabilities for different possible outcomes, is an experimental work combining documentary interviews and dramatizations. In the fictitious world, Wright plays a version of himself, hermited away and stuck as to what to do in life: become a filmmaker, a lawyer or a bartender? Not so strangely, Wright had dropped out of film school and delved into the academic bastions of law and philosophy. In the film, his “possibilities” gets unlocked by psychologist “Natalie Forrester” (the actress and character’s name) as the films hops between London, Helsinki, Jerusalem, Paris and Los Angeles. Interspersed are meta-philosophical explorations regarding fate, possibility and free will by such heavy thinkers as cosmologist Max Tegmark of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett of Tufts University and psychologist Barry Schwartz from the University of California, Berkeley.
“There’s no one better to give insights on questions of philosophy and science than philosophers and scientists. I didn’t want the same information to be conveyed by characters or narration alone,” Wright said. “And I knew that adding their voices to the view of the fictional stories would be an unusual experience, something you don’t see often, and I wanted to test some narrative boundaries. It’s not a docu-fiction, it’s something else. It’s is a mesh of reality and fiction.”
For a low-budget, first-time filmmaker, Wright has turned out something compact, unique and remarkably accomplished with his four-plus years of toil. Just take a look at the video on his Kickstarter page (the campaign ends Tuesday) – it’s hard to believe those production values were achieved for a mere $30,000. Wright’s done more than put in time and money (earned as a translator) into the project; he’s given his soul. In his pursuit for meaning, we all get to go along for the odyssey and ask, “What if?”
“Psi” screens at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Building 32-155, also known as the Ray and Maria Stata Center, at 32 Vassar St. Free and open to the public. A discussion with Wright, Dennett and others from the film follows. For more about the project and Wright, visit psi-the-project.com.