Netflix has offered another foreign language time travel film, this time Spanish, but subbed and dubbed in English and not difficult to follow. The original Spanish title, Durante la tormenta, renders to During the Storm, a reasonably appropriate description of a key element of the setting, but someone made the decision to market it under the English title Mirage, a reference to a book which is a minor clue in the events.
In something reminiscent of Frequency we have a communications connection, this time facilitated by a freak electrical storm occurring for three days in 1988 and even more freakishly on those same three calendar days exactly twenty-five years later. A couple with a young daughter who have just moved into their new home find an old analog television with CRT display paired with what must once have been a cutting edge video camera with magnetic recording tapes, which belonged to a young boy who lived in that house twenty-five years previously, who had been recording tapes of himself playing the guitar and sometimes singing. They entertain themselves by watching these, but before they shut it off they inexplicably receive live broadcast news of the opening of the Berlin Wall from 1988.
That night the wife and mother is awakened by the sound of the television broadcasting that same news, gets out of bed, fiddles with the equipment, and finds herself on a video call with the young boy back in 1988. She changes his life, and in so doing rather unexpectedly and drastically changes her own.
Our analysis is packed with spoilers, and it is a movie worth watching, so you might want to see it before you read more.
To put some names to people, the woman in the future, who is the main character in the story, is named Vera Roy Ortiz, and the boy in the past is Nico Lasarte. Vera is married to David Ortiz, to whom she was introduced by Aitor Medina some years before, and their daughter is named Gloria. We learn much about Nico's history early in the film because Aitor, close friends of the Ortiz family and visting them for dinner the evening after they have had their first encounter with the television and the tapes, was Nico's best friend as a boy. It seems that on the first night of the storm Nico's mother Maria left him home alone to go to work, and he heard screaming across the street, looked out the window, and then went to investigate. Finding an unlocked front door, he entered, passed a dinner table with food still on it, and then found the body of Hilda Weiss, wife of Angel Prieto, dead on the floor alongside the stairway. Angel then appears on the stairs holding a bloody knife, and chases Nico, who flees out of the house and into the street, where he is hit and killed by a car.
Apparently stunned by the entire miscarriage, Prieto confesses to killing his wife, including his intention to bury her in his abattoir.
It probably never really matters, but Prieto did not actually kill his wife. Aitor's mother Clara Medina was Prieto's lover, and Hilda suspected this, called her husband to say she was stranded because of the storm, and entered the house to catch them in flagrante delicto. She left her high heeled shoes near the door when she let herself in, picked up the carving knife from the dining room table, went up stairs, and attacked them. In the ensuing struggle the battle moved into the hall at the top of the stairs (and of course this has one of those bannistered balconies over the hall below), and she is thrown off Prieto onto the knife in Clara's hand, then stumbles back and goes over the bannister. It was in that sense an accidental killing.
Years later Vera and Aitor happen to be riding the same train every day to work, and although they don't know each other he often sits across from her. There is some kind of explosion one day that shakes the train while she is standing, and he catches her and stabilizes her, which breaks the ice. My impression is that this was something on the order of the World Trade Center attack, but there was never any suggestion that this might be New York that I caught. They become friends, and then he introduces her to his friend David and David's girlfriend Ursula. Vera tells us it was for her love at first sight, and this leads to Vera marrying David and having Gloria, and moving into the house previously owned by the Lasarte family. Vera was on track to become the best neurosurgeon in the hospital, but instead she married David, became a surgical nurse, and supported his dream to get his masters and prove to his father that he could do it. At some point David had a brain tumor, removed by Vera's mentor Doctor Fell. Vera did not assist on that because she was sick; instead a nurse named Monica was there.
Unbeknownst to us until much later, David and Monica began an affair at that time, meeting at a particular hotel. Early in the film Vera finds matches from the hotel in a pocket of something David had thrown in the wash, and asks whether he has started smoking again. He gives her a story about having one cigarette during a break at a business meeting, and tosses them out a window.
This history comes to an end that night, when Vera talks to Nico and changes the past, creating our first altered timeline.
No one travels to the past in this movie, but as we have discussed before information traveling to the past is just as problematic as people doing so, and that happens in this movie in a big way. It is clear that this is not a fixed time movie, as events change twice due to information traveling from the future to the past. No one initiates the anomaly; it is caused by a combination of a pair of freak electrical storms connected to each other and the use of the same electronic devices during those storms twenty-five years apart.
Nico has been sitting in his attic during the storm, making videos of himself playing the guitar. He puts away the last tape, picks up news about Berlin, and then suddenly his camera isn't working right--that is, the television is not showing him what's in the room. He points this out to his mother, who is rushing off to work, and then finds himself talking to a strange woman. That is, of course, Vera, who recognizes him and addresses him by name because she has seen the tapes and heard the history from Aitor. He notices a rail station sign behind her, and notes the name of the station, which she admits she and David stole for its special meaning to them. Then the screaming starts, and Vera realizes what is happening. She begs Nico not to go, and in trying to persuade him spouts a considerable amount of information much of which is not of particular use to him, including that tomorrow school will be closed because lightning hit the clock and knocked out the power, Prieto has just killed his wife and intends to bury her under his abattoir, and if Nico goes outside he will be killed by a car.
(For problems with this kind of real-time communication between the future and the past, see Frequency.)
Nico does go outside, but is delayed sufficiently that he sees the car drive by on his way toward Prieto's which originally hit him on the way out. He does not enter Prieto's house. Prieto, for the present, gets away with murder.
Nico, though, is fascinated by the woman calling him from the future, and the possibility that Prieto actually did kill his wife, so the next day he breaks a window pane on a glass door and enters the house when he sees Prieto leave. His explorations are rewarded when he finds Hilda's body in the bathtub. He is still exploring, however, when Prieto returns home with tools from the abattoir. Nico hides under a bed in a bedroom with a view of the bathroom. He picks up a gold-toned watch from the floor; it was Clara's, and when Prieto was scratched by it he removed it and tossed it there, but forgot about it in the confusion which followed.
Prieto cuts up Hilda's body and packs it in a large suitcase. As he is preparing to to leave, though, the phone rings next to the bed under which Nico is hiding, and Prieto sits on the bed to answer it. It is Clara, saying that she must have left her watch behind and he needs to find it. He looks around cursorily and returns to the task of disposing of the body. Nico manages to slip out of the house while Prieto is in the garage, but Prieto's dog alerts his owner to the broken back window, so the killer knows that someone has been inside.
Using false papers provided by a friend who works for customs, Clara travels to East Berlin under Hilda's name, and Prieto invents the story that his wife left him for an old boyfriend who had been trapped behind the Iron Curtain for years. Nico tells his mother the whole story--including the woman from the future on the television--and then tells it to the police, producing the watch as evidence. Prieto reports a break-in and burglary in which a watch was stolen, and identifies the watch as his, using the story that his wife left him and went to Berlin with the records of her border crossing as corroboration. Ultimately Nico is pressured to admit he stole the watch, and to return it with an apology; Prieto magnanimously forgives him and says that that settles everything between them.
Clara and her son Aitor move into Prieto's house, and thereafter Prieto and Clara are said to be married.
Nico and his mother leave the neighborhood, and the boy undergoes extensive psychiatric treatment until he finally learns to tell people that the woman from the future on the television was a hallucination. However, he remains obsessed with her.
That electrical storm lasted seventy-two hours, during which time Nico sat in front of his television hoping that the woman would reappear and give him more information. She never did. However, his obsession did not end there. He knew nothing about her but her appearance--and he attempted to sketch a picture of her--and the fact that a particular railway station had nostalgic value to her. From a rather young age he begins sitting in that station watching for her.
He manages to recognize her when she is quite a few years younger than she was at the time they originally met, and he realizes that he has a problem: the events that brought them together have not yet, for her, happened. She is not going to know who he is. However, he wants to know what happens, why she never called him again, so he begins insinuating himself into her life. He sits near her on the train--and on that fateful day when Aitor met her, it is not Aitor but Nico who is sitting across from her.
Nico becomes a police inspector; not having met Aitor, Vera is never introduced to David, never gives up school to have Gloria, and becomes the best neurosurgeon in the hospital, as stated by Doctor Fell. She is the doctor who operates on David, a complete stranger to her, when he has his brain tumor. Vera and Nico marry. David marries Ursula, and begins his affair with Monica following the surgery. Prieto and Clara continue their marriage and the pretense that Hilda is living with her lover in East Berlin. At some point the abattoir goes out of business and is closed.
In the original history after Nico was killed his mother moved away and left the camera and television in the attic, where it remained for a quarter century until Vera and David found it. In this history, when Maria and Nico moved Nico took his things with him, and now in his penthouse apartment in the city (no, police inspectors can't afford penthouse apartments, but his wife is a top neurosurgeon) he has this old equipment in storage.
I would like to ignore an anomaly that occurs early in the film, but it is an anomaly and needs to be addressed despite the fact that it is impossible to assess what, if any, impact it has on events.
It is the morning after the storm began. The older Nico breaks into the Ortiz house, the house where the original communication occurred, bringing the television and camera with him. He wants to know if it works, and he plugs it in and turns it on--but immediately turns it off, apparently deciding it was a bad idea.
However, it creates a momentary ghost image in the past, observed by younger Nico. That means despite how brief it was, we have something traveling from the future to the past, and it creates another anomaly. It is not much information, but it is information, a wordless announcement to the effect that the system works.
We have a fairly good idea when this happens. It has to be after young Nico received the first transmission, because he is diligently monitoring the television for another one. Yet it has to be fairly early, because the door is already broken and older Nico has already removed all other evidence of his presence from the house by the time Vera gets there. She went to Ortiz' office as early as she could get there, was not there long, and then went to her old house seeking the television and camera, which she does not know Nico took with him when he moved. She is probably there before noon. On the other hand, Nico can't break in before David and Ursula leave the house in the morning, presumably to go to work. We can probably narrow it down to between nine thirty and ten o'clock.
It is, as noted, very difficult to assess the impact of this anomaly. The ghost image does not appear in the history created by Vera saving Nico's life. It is easily argued that seeing the ghost image encourages Nico to believe that he might again see the woman, that the machine is working. On the other hand, there is no reason to think that he is less obsessed in the first altered history in which the image does not appear.
As to the anomaly itself, it seems almost certain that older Nico would test the machine--Vera was able to guess that he had done so because she would have. That means that the appearance (or non-appearance) of the ghost image in the past does not in any way affect older Nico causing it, and it is not going to change the fact that he has the equipment in the future, and we have a benign N-jump: once this anomaly is introduced it will always be present.
It might be argued that by using the equipment to create a new, very slightly altered, history, Nico locks time into the history in which he removed the equipment from the house such that Vera never found it. However, as we are about to show, Vera already did that when she created an infinity loop. This changes nothing.
We have seen these problems in other movies; they are common enough that we might dare to call them tropes. Mirage, though, gives us a few new wrinkles.
As soon as Vera has managed to delay Nico and so save his life, something happens and she blacks out. She awakens in a hospital bed. It is after her conversation with Nico, time moving forward from that moment.
All of history has changed, and everyone around her knows what we would call the altered history. She, though, remembers only the original history--the history that now has never happened. And speaking of never happened, she never married David, never moved into the Lasarte house, never found the camera and television setup, and never sent that message to the past. That being the case, Nico could never have received it, and must have been killed by the car fleeing from the Prieto house. We have an infinity loop, two histories each of which causes the other and undoes itself, and time must come to a grinding halt at the moment when Vera does, or does not, save Nico's life. Vera cannot awaken in the hospital bed after changing the past, because there is no "after".
The movie misses this, though, and continues the story. One interesting aspect is that although Vera does not remember any of the altered history, if she touches someone, skin to skin, she remembers at least some events specific to her relationship with that person. In this way she begins to piece together what happened.
Her first problem, though, is that she is not Vera Roy Ortiz; she is Doctor Vera Roy. It upsets her that she is not married to David Ortiz, but even more she is frantic that she cannot find her daughter Gloria. She disrupts the Ortiz household, David and Ursula happening to live in the same house to which she and David had moved, and David still working the same job. Neither of them recognize her, and neither does Aitor. Ultimately she goes to the police.
Her case is handled by Inspector Leyra--who happens to be Inspector Nicolas Lasarte Leyra, name apparently changed to dissociate him from the infamous history. In the altered history, this is her husband. He has been waiting to see what would happen when she reached the time when she had communicated with him in the past, but he never imagined that she would completely forget their life together. He begins the investigation with a view to demonstrating that the events she remembers never happened, in the hope that she would recall the life that did happen, but it is not working. At least Nico has the sense to comment on it eventually, asking why she can't remember everything that really happened and instead remembers everything that never happened. It is a question we've been asking since it happened to Marty McFly in Back to the Future: if you changed all of history, shouldn't you be the version of you who lived through the altered history and remembers it? Yet as in so many other films, abruptly at the moment when her original self changed history her altered self forgets everything that has happened over the past twenty-five years and has her memories replaced by the twenty-five years of history she just erased.
She tells the inspector that she needs to find Nico Lasarte to corroborate her story, and so she learns that he went through a lot of psychiatric treatment but, she is told by Leyra, no one knows where he is now. Needing something to prove she is not crazy, she gives them the location of Hilda Weiss' body, which they find. They question Prieto and Clara, but also make it clear that Vera, who knew where to find the body, was also a suspect. (This seems a bit silly, as at the time Hilda disappeared, and given the state of decay of the body, she could not have been much older than ten.) However, recognizing that Vera is running out of time (she has to resolve this before the seventy-two hour storm ends or she will never be able to contact the past again) he releases her and gives her the address of a hotel room he says will ultimately lead her to Nico.
The hotel room is in the hotel from which the matches came (remember those?), and contains Monica and David. This is when Vera learns that they have been having their affair since she operated on him, and presumably in the other history since Doctor Fell operated on him. Monica was the assisting nurse in both histories.
Vera then presses David to help her find Nico. David works at a bank, and is able to look up Nico as a customer. He gives Vera the address and a ride to the location of the penthouse apartment. She enters trepidatiously, finds Nico's guitar, and then finds Nico's mother awaiting her. At this point all the pieces fall in place, as she realizes that Nico is both Inspector Leyra and her husband. He arrives, and as he kisses her she recovers many memories of their lives together--but she still above all else wants her daughter. She tells him she needs the equipment, and when he claims he disposed of it she calls his bluff. Yet he does not want her to go back to that other life because then he will lose her.
Telling him that it's his turn to save her, she does a back dive off the penthouse balcony onto a car on the street below.
Nico realizes that he has very little time before the storm ends. He runs to the storage closet to get the equipment and rushes across town to the house where it is known to work. He calls himself in the past, explains that he is his future self, and presumably tells him, as Vera directed, that he should not seek the woman from the future, and he should not become involved with the murder of Hilda Weiss.
Apparently it worked. Vera awakens in bed next to David; she quietly extracts herself and goes to Gloria's room, where she finds her daughter sleeping. The quest has succeeded. She then checks the storage, but does not find the television and camera. David catches up, tells her that there's never been any such thing in the house. She says she had a nightmare, and he says she's been acting strange the past few days.
Then she goes outside and digs the matches out of the grass. This confirms for her that her memories are real, as she confronts him with them. Our denoument is a bit rushed, but next she goes to the abandoned abattoir and finds the body, then contacts the police. She declines to answer questions until the inspector arrives who is, as she anticipated, Nico. He asks if he knows her, and she responds, "Not yet", and we imagine that Vera and Nico, at least, live happily ever after.
Of course, this is again an infinity loop. The only reason Nico has for contacting his younger self and creating this history is that Vera jumped off his balcony. In the history he has created, he never met Vera. Arguably he never spoke to her from the past, either, because she never had the television and camera, but that's already been a problem plaguing the film. The film is very entertaining, but the time travel is disastrous.
As the film is wrapping up, we have a new problem, something that the filmmakers seem to have overlooked in the name of providing a happy ending.
At the beginning, for our first anomaly, Vera changes history, and only Vera knows that anything has changed. Vera remembers the history that has been erased, and knows nothing of the history that replaced it.
At the end, Vera has this same experience. She remembers the original history (as evidenced by her search for the television and her knowledge of the location of the body) and the altered history she created (as evidenced by the facts that she immediately checks on her daughter, and she recognizes the significance of the matches, and she knows who inspector Leyra is). Just as it happened before, only layered, she is the only one who remembers, who knows that the history everyone else remembers is not the original history.
The problem is, she is not the one who created this new altered history. Nico did it. Yet Nico does not remember the world he erased, only the world he created. We have an inconsistency in how the time travel works.
This also complicates our aforementioned hiccough. Although it was a very minor change, when Nico sends back the ghost image he does change history, ever so slightly. Should that not mean that now he remembers the original history, and not the altered one, and how are they different? Meanwhile, does the fact that we have moved from the history Vera created to the history Nico created mean that Vera no longer remembers the other history? Or since his anomaly overlaps hers, does she continue to experience her anomaly even as he experiences his?
So it's an enjoyable movie with some interesting time travel elements, but ultimately it does not hold together temporally, and is even inconsistent with its own rules.