Few films have set out to tackle the idea of intimacy as literally as Ben Brewer’s 2023 Sundance standout A Folded Ocean. The lead visual effects artist of Everything Everywhere All At Once—for which he was nominated for a BAFTA—Brewer’s bizarre and technically remarkable short watches two lovers as they fall and fuse into one another, producing an enmeshed figure of flesh that is as endearing as it is frightening.
The story was inspired by a section from Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse in which the French theorist expands on a parable by Plato stating that humans were originally two individuals joined at the back whose homogenized souls were so powerful the gods decided to split them apart. A Folded Ocean uses this myth to interrogate couples’ desire to become a bound unit compacted by the power of love. The idea that the experience of love “is a vestigial desire to rejoin, to melt together, back into his ancient manifestation” directly invoked “the horrors of intimacy and romantic longing” that Brewer was trying to write about.
“I want to reduce complex ideas into images that let the audience sit comfortably in them and think about their own lives and maybe be moved by the process.” BEN BREWER
Having fiddled around with an After Effects plug-in that allows you to “put a logo on someone’s T-shirt and have it hold with the folds,” while he was working on Everything Everywhere All At Once, Brewer began theorizing about what would happen if he applied this technology to overlaid skin. Eventually, he decided to get naked with his girlfriend and film the two of them walking across a room in an awkward pose, reifying his visualizations of a body fused together and the “gross flesh shots” achievable using this digital tool.
This DIY-approach not only allowed Brewer to test out new technologies, but it challenged him to juggle multiple roles on set. “I directed it, did the visual effects, edited, color-graded it, and did the initial sound design,” said Brewer. The results of this coordinated approach to movie-making melded science and affect into a visceral account of love gone awry.
Based in Los Angeles, Ben Brewer began making music videos for artists including Alt J and Foster the People with his brother Alex under the joint moniker “Brewer.” Together, they would go on to helm their debut feature The Trust, an action thriller starring Nicolas Cage and Elijah Wood. He is currently editing a new film starring Nick Cage titled Arcadian, in addition to developing a feature-length spiritual companion to A Folded Ocean titled The Devil’s Breath.
Text written by Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer.
- Credits for
- A FOLDED OCEAN
- Anabelle LeMieux & John Giacobbe
- produced by
- Emily Murnane
- on set sound by
- Alex Brewer
- co-edited by
- Andrew Daugherty
- sound design
- Bobb Barito