A scintillating sci-fi throwback, Vanishing Waves draws inspiration from Stanley Kubrick and Andrei Tarkovsky, among others, but without feeling plagiaristic. Marius Jampolskis is Lukas, one of two subjects of an experiment meant to test a new technology that allows for the psychological reading of and interaction with a comatose subject. The second, portrayed by Jurga Jutaite, is Aurora (whose name doubled as the film’s original Lithuanian title), a non-responsive victim of near-drowning and about whom Lukas is meant to know nothing save for what he’s able to observe during the experiment process, thus ensuring impartiality. Alas, the process proves more successful than anticipated, and rather than merely observing, Lukas oversteps his bounds and interacts with Aurora’s suppressed personality, striking up something of a cyberpunk romance with the girl and lying to his superiors about his carnal experiences within her subconscious.
The film’s trippy, dreamlike sequences within Aurora’s psyche suggest a rotating house of mirrors in which the environment is a mere manifestation of its occupants’ fucked-up head space; a splintered-apart beachside house brings to mind the elusiveness of an M.C. Escher drawing, while the influences of David Lynch and Salvador Dalí are felt in a nightmarishly pulsating black hole. Writer-director Kristina Buozyte has studied and fully digested her visual and thematic influences and produced something at once borrowed and unique, particularly in her raw acknowledgment of human emotion. Lukas’s sexual frustration is established early on, and his inability to separate his work from his home life makes up the core of what’s ultimately a tragic love story (fittingly, Peter Von Poehl’s score frequently evokes Howard Shore’s work in David Cronenberg’s Crash). Vanishing Waves’s visual motifs are sometimes blatant in their symbolism (such as an ocean Lukas passes through at the outset of his experiments), but unlike the spoon-fed obviousness of Inception’s freight train (or, worse yet, the condescending gall it took to name an antagonist Mal), Buozyte’s images and codes invite further scrutiny and are frequently deliberately repulsive in nature, striking the necessarily unpleasant notes required to evoke a state of emotional and sexual trauma.