Solos review: Amazon Prime Video sci-fi anthology is a worthy exploration of humans connected by isolation

Isolation, a sense of loss, and technology — three relevant threads run through all seven short films in David Weil's perceptive sci-fi anthology Solos.

Devansh Sharma May 21, 2021 18:30:32 IST
Solos review: Amazon Prime Video sci-fi anthology is a worthy exploration of humans connected by isolation

Anne Hathaway in Solos

Language: English

Isolation, a sense of loss, and technology — these three threads run through all seven short films in David Weil's new sci-fi anthology Solos. Though the series was written before the coronavirus started spinning its web, the three themes resonate now more than ever before.

There are no corny references to sanitisers, masks, and other motifs of the ongoing pandemic to force context into the anthology; it is only an examination of the underlying devices that will continue to govern human lives.

The logline of Solos says, "Seven characters set off on a thrilling adventure in an uncertain future, and they'll come to reckon that even during our most isolated moments, we are all connected through the human experience." This premise remains a fortune cookie in some stories, whereas in others, it takes off into a space of keen exploration and great revelation. Like most anthologies, Solos is also a mixed bag.

But given that a deep dive into any story would invite spoilers, this writer has chosen to step away from that minefield and restrict the analysis to how the three threads mentioned at the start shape this anthology — for better or worse.

Solos review Amazon Prime Video scifi anthology is a worthy exploration of humans connected by isolation

Helen Mirren in Solos

Isolation may have become a buzzword now but it also carries the right connotation for what us — and all the characters in this anthology — are experiencing. It has neither the crushing burden of 'loneliness' nor the empowered implications of 'solitude.' Isolation is a fine mix of both — a boon and a bane, an enabler and a deterrent, and a storytelling device both powerful and feeble.

All seven short films, with the exception of one or two, have the presence of a singular actor. I would not say a singular 'character', as a couple of them have the actor in a double (or triple) role. While it works for Anthony Mackie (who plays Tom) because most of his dialogues are shot in over-the-shoulder fashion, it is not the same for Anne Hathaway (Leah), an actor who thrives on the energy of her co-stars. Reacting to a green screen may be rather convenient in a superhero movie but an exceptional actor like Hathaway's limited conviction to pull off emotional scenes points to the glaring side-effects of performing in isolation.

Through several similar instances, Solos shows how isolation weighs heavy on the best of them — not just the characters, but even the actors.

Hathaway and Mackie may still enjoy the crutch of bouncing boards on screen. But for most of the others, they only have a voice to react to — of some distant cousin of Alexa or Siri. Uzo Aduba (Sasha) starts off well in her short film, but soon her rant directed towards the AI voice turns into a spoken word gig. She starts talking into the camera, which explains how our verbal communication to self in isolation often takes on a performative tone. But the pitch and the eye contact with the audience become overpowering, which makes the audience lose their grip on the narrative (a pity since her short film builds well on a promising premise).

Solos review Amazon Prime Video scifi anthology is a worthy exploration of humans connected by isolation

Uzo Aduba in Solos

Monologues and breaking the fourth wall are not the obstructions here. Constance Wu (Jenny) makes the most of them with a rant that is effervescent like her fairy-like appearance in the film, but also laced with wrenching ache of the turmoil within. She looks into the eyes of the audience because they are all she's got — like the titular character in Phoebe Waller-Bridge's show Fleabag. Helen Mirren also makes a hearty meal of her monologue as Peg. She does not even have the luxury of mobility like Wu does. But the thespian taps into her rich theatre experience to deliver a narration that you nod to, smile to, and cannot help get enough of. Hers is inarguably the most refined performance across the board.

Solos review Amazon Prime Video scifi anthology is a worthy exploration of humans connected by isolation

Constance Wu in Solos

And then there are the last two short films, which unfurl in the presence of two characters each. They are the odd ones out, but for good reason. Nicole Beharie (as Nera) could still be called a one-character film because her interaction with the other, her soon-to-be-delivered baby, can be interpreted as her dealing with pregnancy contractions and anxiety when isolated in a far-flung house.

Solos review Amazon Prime Video scifi anthology is a worthy exploration of humans connected by isolation

Nicole Beharie in Solos

But the final story is the one that breaks characters because it is the culmination which ties all the preceding stories together. Morgan Freeman (as Stuart) and Dan Stevens (as Otto) may have each other's company but they are still 'solos' at heart because of the void they carry with themselves. At the end, when both hug each other, it feels earned. It is also as reassuring to the audience who experience the first human contact on screen after over three hours of runtime. That moment is a tangible antithesis to the tempting mantra of isolation. It may take one to survive, but it takes two to hug.

Solos review Amazon Prime Video scifi anthology is a worthy exploration of humans connected by isolation

Dan Stevens and Morgan Freeman in Solos

The character that inhabits all the short films is technology. I use the word 'character' metaphorically even if technology is a living, breathing organism here. Humans have built technology as a panacea to all their struggles, including intangible evils like loss, grief, loneliness, remorse, guilt, and self-doubt. But technology, like humans, is not immune to the inevitable. Since it is a creation of humankind, and thus its subset, it is capable of adapting only as far as humans can. For everything beyond that, it can only embrace. And so in all the shorts of Solos, technology serves the purpose of making humans come to terms with the inevitable, the impermanence, the shortcomings. Artificial Intelligence gets as real in Solos, because the creation can see clearly what even the creator can't.

Solos is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

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