Frequencies: A Delightful Dys-trope-ia

I discovered Frequencies two years ago, and remembered it as a smart, insightful, effective sci-fi drama that I should revisit. I rewatched it this week – it left me feeling nothing if not conflicted. I was engrossed by it, yet couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something.

I turned to the internet to tell me how I should react. This left me more conflicted. Some sites praised the film’s unique style and profound insights. Others said it was a dumb movie that makes one feel smart, bereft of any life or original ideas. Being conflict-averse, I couldn’t take sides on the issue, so I agreed with all the reviews, because I don’t trust my own judgment anymore.

Alright, joking aside, I highly recommend this movie. If you go into the movie expecting smart independent sci-fi, you may find the film lacking, or you may find it fascinating, or you may find it to be competent and nothing more. However… if you go into the movie expecting it to be an amusing package of clichés, you’ll find it to be a goldmine of tropes. I don’t think this was the director’s intent, but it’s arguably the best way to enjoy the movie (spoilers to follow).

The movie opens on elementary students Marie Curie and Isaac Newton (who goes by Zak). Within five minutes, Zak drops an apple – BECAUSE IT’S LIKE ISAAC NEWTON!!! We learn that this is a quasi-Wes-Anderson world disguised as hard sci-fi. The children talk like adults, everything is hipster and quirky, and reality seems a little bit, how shall I say it, ‘off’? Everyone is named after a scientist, everything is very analytical and quantitative, and the world feels mechanical and calculated. Even the color palette is cold (more on that shortly).

This is the establishing shot for Marie’s father. How artistic.

So, Zak has a crush on Marie, but she can’t reciprocate. This is due to two factors. First, Marie is a high frequency, but Zak is a low frequency. Because this is a slightly alternate reality, nature will not allow them to interact for more than a minute, like they’re two magnets repelling each other. Second, Marie has no feelings – she says as much numerous times. So even if she wanted to love Zak, she just couldn’t, because she’s too smart to feel anything. Which, again, she explains to him numerous times.

But, Marie humors Zak with experiments to see how long they can stand next to each other (again, feels like Wes Anderson). Cut to them as teenagers, then as adults, still unable to interact. Zak finds her one day and says he figured out a way to beat the system – OH BOY! The secret is touching her, because it’s like an energy transfer: he’s bringing her down to his level. So they touch, and the color temperature gradually changes to warmer tones. BECAUSE NOW MARIE HAS FEELINGS AND CAN SEE THE WORLD IN TRUE COLOR!!

Mind you, this is only the first twenty minutes. Suddenly we cut back to them as kids, except now we see the story from Zak’s perspective. Zak works with his friend Theo to find ways to overcome his unfortunate low frequency. They stumble upon a solution: spoken words. Yes, spoken words, because they have frequencies too! BECAUSE IT’S SOUND!! They realize that if Zak says certain syllables, it will offset his frequency temporarily. Zak comments offhand that, ‘it’s weird that we’re the first ones to figure it out, right?’ Hmm…

Now Zak and Marie are together, and he explains the syllables to her. He has a primitive app on his phone that will scan the room, then generate the best word to say to adjust his frequency. So, he and Marie begin dating, and as long as Zak says specific words every minute, they stay together. Ah, the price of love.

This is Marie’s notebook. She has a perfect memory, so these are her notes. Like 1s and 0s for a robot, because she has no feelings, remember??

BUT WAIT – they suddenly realize that some of the words have MIND POWERS, and if you say them, the person will do WHATEVER YOU ASK!! Marie, being super smart, thinks that Zak tricked her into falling in love. She thinks that he used the words to manipulate her, but she doesn’t know if she loves him. OH NOOOO!!

BUT WAIT – it turns out, humans have known about the offsetting words for millennia, and a secret government agency has been KEEPING SECRETS FROM THE PUBLIC!! They arrest Zak, Marie, and their friends, and force them to declassify the supposedly declassified technology, because otherwise they could TAKE OVER THE WORLD!!!

BUT WAIT – some of the words are more than just mind manipulation, they actually manipulate your actions. Good thing too – Zak needed a way to escape from the government facility, so he just says the word that means ‘stop’, and the guards freeze conveniently while he runs away.

BUT WAIT – you know what else has a frequency that can counteract the effect of words that counteract the effect of your inherent frequency? MUSIC! WHAT A TWIST!!! Zak figures it out, and a nice gentleman provides three minutes of exposition while playing Mozart on the piano. Because Mozart unlocked the key to real music, music that liberates people from the bondage of frequency and evens the playing field, and proves that people aren’t defined by how they’re born!!! BECAUSE WE NEED FREE WILL, RIGHT???

BUT WAIT – remember Theo, the guy who helped Zak make this crazy new discovery that had secretly been in plain sight for thousands of years? I kid you not, in the final twenty minutes, we go back to the beginning, only this time from Theo’s perspective. And Theo has a perfectly average frequency. Which of course means that Theo is the only person who actually has free will, which he uses to help Zak and Marie fall in love (he does this because…???).

The ‘Knowledge Determines Destiny’ plaque, when Marie is the focus.
The ‘Knowledge Determines Destiny’ plaque, when Zak is the focus.
The ‘Knowledge Determines Destiny’ plaque, when Theo is the focus.

BUT WAIT – Zak and Marie realize that they couldn’t help but fall in love, and that’s not fair, right, because love should be chosen? But if you can’t choose anything, does it matter? I guess not – they decide to just embrace their destiny and be in love. After all, deep down, Marie wanted somebody to help make her feel things, so nature gave her Zak. In a shocking twist, their perfect incompatibility made them perfectly compatible. Oh, and Theo takes over the world, because he’s unlocked the code to life itself. That’s the actual ending.

Do yourself a favor and watch it. I can’t help but see the movie as a joke now, but once you’re in on the joke, it’s a blast.