After tripping over her dog and hitting her head, Ava is dead. She wakes up, though, in a virtual purgatory, where her consciousness has been “downloaded” by a cloud computer. In ten minutes, the person formerly known as Ava will be transferred into a new body.
But complications arise, starting with the sarcastic, snippy computer program itself, which irritates Ava, and the two spar over questions of Ava’s failures and limitations from the life she’s just left. But when the full truth of what’s happened to Ava is revealed, she learns to let go of her ego — and possibly discovers what truly matters in the end.
Armed with both barbed wit, sharp intelligence and engaging philosophical inquiry, this ingenious short dramedy — directed by Ursula Ellis and written by Addison Heimann — ponders some of the deepest questions of existence, divinity and what lies beyond death. Weighty thematic territory, yes, but it’s leavened with sharp contemporary dialogue, as well as sci-fi genre elements that provide touches of humor as well as insight.
Purgatory and limbo have been imagined in storytelling as eerie, horrific realms of hell teeming with demons and angels, or sometimes as desolate empty landscapes. Here, purgatory is a bit like the come-down room of a 90s dance rave club, full of coolly minimalist lines and surfaces.
The visuals are indebted to sci-fi films, with its pared-down set design and clear, clean cinematography. It evokes what audiences could imagine is the inside of a Macbook’s consciousness — a consciousness that receives Ava when she “awakens” from her death and awaits uploading into a new body.
The dialogue, too, is imbued with the concerns of science and technology, and references to social media practices like live-tweeting and asking for reviews permeate the script. These are peppered lightly throughout the dialogue, as Ava tries to figure out what is happening to her and then process it before she moves on.
The meat of Ava’s conversation with the computer lasers in on the life she hasn’t yet lived — she still has to move to New York and become a successful actress, for instance. She’s both eager and demanding to get back, though the computer needles her about how she’ll never be Jennifer Lawrence and tells her dark stories about how other friends have died, and slowly the lighter tone of the storytelling shifts into something heavier.
Actor Elsa Gay handles the highwire act with aplomb, capturing both the slightly self-absorbed air of a stereotypical young actress consumed with success and a young woman reckoning with the lost opportunities of a life she won’t ever live. When the story shifts into darker territory — though retaining its sharp wit — Ava must come to terms with “what it all means,” and reaches the end by reaching out beyond herself.
“Ava In the End” has a youthful verve in its writing and a gloss of contemporary comedy, but in the end, it’s essentially a conversation that people have with themselves when faced with big transitions in life, whether it’s to a different stage in life or the final one. In these reckonings, we ask ourselves what we accomplished, what we failed at, and what really mattered. In this film, the only thing left at the ultimate end is to reach out into the abyss — and hope something is out there to reach back towards us.