“Knowledge is Power” is the oft-repeated mantra in the slightly askew world of Frequencies, but it’s one that the people acknowledge comes with something of a caveat. The most important piece of knowledge out there is the fact that a person’s frequency — basically their scientifically proven and unalterable level of luck — ultimately determines how much power they’ll ever have.
Marie Curie Fortune exits her primary school test with results showing an incredibly high frequency, while Isaac Newton Midgeley discovers his is extraordinarily low. They’re opposites, but more than that, they’re dangerous when kept in close proximity for more than a minute. While Marie is gifted with a life that automatically provides for her it comes at the cost of real feelings and empathy. As she herself points out, any emotional reaction you see on her face is an artificial creation. Isaac will know real emotions, but he’ll be “literally out of sync with the natural world, he will be beyond unlucky, he will never be in the right place at the right time.”
The two meet as children and reunite once a year for a single minute. For him it’s about falling in love, for her it’s nothing more than research, but together they risk dangerous weather shifts and disruptions with the natural order of things for that single minute. They go their separate ways once school ends, but when their paths cross again as adults Isaac (Daniel Fraser) comes prepared with a way to change someone’s supposedly unchangeable frequency. Curious to continue their experiments and secretly hopeful it will mean she’ll be able to feel real emotions for the first time, Marie (Eleanor Wyld) agrees.
And together they put all of humanity at risk.
Writer/director Darren Paul Fisher‘s film is that rare creation — smart, thought-provoking science fiction more interested in big ideas than big set-pieces — and more often than not it delivers those ideas in an engaging and attractive manner.
The script never conflates a person’s frequency with their intelligence or charisma, and instead makes it clear that this simply determines how easy or hard of a road a person’s life will be. Isaac’s teacher acknowledges that the boy’s a genius, but a negative frequency makes him more trouble than he’s worth as a student. Marie’s parents would probably have preferred a lower number for their daughter if only because it would mean she was capable of feeling and displaying real emotion, but they’re content knowing her life will be an easy one. It’s basically a scientific application of the idea that some people just breeze through life while the rest of us struggle.
Big things matter, but the film’s charm comes in the smaller, less tangible changes. As Isaac’s experiment takes hold and Marie’s number decreases she discovers a reality she never considered. Yes she’s feeling love for the first time, but she’s also never had to actually wait for a train before as she’s used to them pulling up just as she reaches a station platform. Accidentally knocking over a glass at dinner is an alarming event for her parents but a delightful new norm for her. And speaking of feelings and emotional responses, a sequence late in the film featuring a short piece of Mozart’s music is all the evidence I need to know my own frequency is towards the low end.
The film’s take on the power of words, that certain combinations of letters can alter a person’s frequency while others pose an even greater threat, plays with ideas similarly explored in Pontypool and (to a lesser extent) The Invention of Lying. It’s a fascinating concept on its face, but the film’s scope allows itself to feel isolated purely by budgetary constraints. We’re told of bigger things than we ever get to see or experience.
That flat scale along with the occasional feeling that we’re in an exposition-dump loop hurt the overall experience, but the ideas and inferences continually lift it back up again. The story looks back on history and touches on biblical allegory in powerful ways allowing viewers to add additional context and depth to their own desire. The latter in particular feels especially clear to me while others may get nothing of the sort.
Frequencies wants to make you think and feel simultaneously, and it succeeds more often than it fails. While its ideas put it in company with films like Upstream Color and Coherence its execution isn’t up to those same standards as some things get lost along the way. (It actually feels closer to Shane Carruth’s Primer where the idea itself is the film’s greatest strength.) Still, there’s more than enough here to keep your brain occupied making it well worth seeking out in theaters… if you’re lucky enough to find it playing at one near you of course.
The Upside: Thought-provoking and interesting concept; real personality; third act; the Tesla/Edison joke; David Broughton-Davies
The Downside: Feels small; lacks energy at times
On the Side: The film played the festival circuit under the unwieldy title OXV: The Manual.