While watching films of gripping intensity, we often feel as though we need to remember to breathe.
But what about a film that’s wants you to breathe to remember?
Directed by legendary director Alexandre Aja, Oxygen tells the story of a young woman (Melanie Laurent) who awakens in a cryogenic pod. Without any memory of who she is or ties to her old life, the woman panics and struggles to break free. With her oxygen level depleted, the woman must crack the code of her memory and her mysterious tomb before time runs out.
Oxygen is an ambitious piece that will leave you gasping for air. An absolute nightmare for anyone claustrophobic, Oxygen keeps the entire film within its confined quarters. While there are very few examples of this type of storytelling, this is an ambitious task for any narrative. With a minimal cast and a tight location, it’s extremely difficult to keep the audience’s attention. (Ryan Reynolds’ pre-Deadpool film, Buried is another example of this.) While Oxygen doesn’t always manage to work, the film’s twist half way through the film is unexpected. Without giving anything away, Aja manages to open up the world so broadly that it gives the film the energy boost that it needs to remain compelling.
As the film’s central focus, star Melanie Laurent has the camera firmly placed on her the entire film and does her best to keep the audience engaged. (Although it’s also worth noting that the film does give some minimal breaks from the location via flashbacks.) The great challenge of a character such as this is that it removes the actor’s ability to truly interact with her surroundings and puts a greater emphasis on the script itself. Even so, Laurent does some good work here and continues to breathe life into the film.
In many ways, Oxygen wants to explore the connection between memory and identity. Waking up with no recollection about her name and/or life, this young woman feels an even deeper sense of isolation. Although locked in her high-tech coffin, what is most terrifying to her is her inability to recall her life before that moment. In essence, because she can no longer remember anything, this young woman’s peril extends beyond her physical problems and seems to erase her from history. Without her memories, what defines her life?
Without a story, how does she know she matters?
While we don’t often associate our memories as the defining characteristics of our lives, Aja creates a compelling argument that our mind is the very thing that defines us. As she fleshes out her life, her story helps her to understand not only her situation but what makes her who she is. As a result, with each piece of her life she recovers, this young woman regains increasing motivation to live on. In this way, Aja uniquely connects our memories with our place in the universe. To him, it appears as though we know we matter because of the loving marks we’ve left on others along the way.
While Oxygen will not be for everyone, the film is hardly on life support. Led by some intriguing ideas about the meaning of our memories, Aja gives Laurent enough room to breathe to give the film life, even when other examples of the genre run out of air.
Oxygen is available on Netflix on Wednesday, May 12th, 2021.