37 Things

By Zane Roach | Comedy
A man has a brain condition that prevents him from knowing more than 37 things.

Timothy Owen has a unique brain: he can only remember 37 things at a time. As a result, he often has a hard time recalling important things because they're often muscled out by useless data, and his life often feels tenuous and uncertain.

He fights to hold onto his most precious memory: that of a woman named Emily, whom he loved. But as the world gets denser with information, his hold onto Emily's memory is challenged.

Both gently satirical and melancholic at once, this short, quietly surreal comedy short -- written and directed by Zane Roach -- has a sci-fi premise, philosophical bent and cheeky humor. But most of all, it has a subdued recognition of the role that memory plays in our identity and happiness, and how the most important moments of our life are often the most ineffable.

Shot in both luminous black and white and expressionistic color, the film has a free-wheeling style that keeps interest constantly engaged and compelling. A sense of playfulness animates everything from the rhythms of the editing to its use of old-fashioned visual effects.

But its guiding hallmark is the well-written, witty voiceover that pulls us through the story, allowing it to traverse unusually ambitious, eccentric thematic terrain. It captures how the world is dense with information about anything and everything: celebrity culture, allergies, memories of people, slang, local news reports, road safety rules, TV shows and more.

But it also captures the difficulty of Timothy's condition, and how Timothy must carefully curate the flow of this information into his head. Actor Scott Marcus plays both the humor and pathos of this condition, and walks the line between an almost old-fashioned clownishness and a genuinely desperate man struggling to keep his mind free of useless information. But keeping his mind uncluttered is a hard task in a world full of constant visual and informational stimulation, and he faces an uphill battle.

"37 Things" will resonate with fans of Charlie Kaufman and Terry Gilliam, both of whom also traffic in a surreal playfulness in their storytelling. It's a fitting approach to a story about information overload and its existential costs, and it pokes great fun at the uselessness of much of the data that surrounds us. But the film also builds to a genuinely moving, thought-provoking conclusion, with both hilarity and wistfulness spanning the poles of modern existence in all its struggle and silliness.

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