Akash Sherman’s second feature film, Clara, premiered at TIFF this year, defining him as a Canadian filmmaker to watch. At just 23-years-old, he has created a unique addition to the sci-fi genre. Starring husband and wife duo, Suits’ Patrick J. Adams and Pretty Little Liars’ Troian Bellisario, the film follows astronomer, Isaac Bruno, and his under-qualified, but eager research assistant, Clara, as they go on a search for life beyond earth. While on their search of the cosmos, they also develop something cosmic within themselves.
The dynamic of these characters is something rarely seen, as science and art are interpreted as being inherently different and unable to co-exist. However, as stated by Sherman during the post-film Q&A, the goal was to change the discussion around that. Clara’s free-spirited and artistic scope with which she looks at science, compliment Isaac’s data focused and scientific scope, proving that each side of the spectrum is essential on their search for a life-changing discovery.
Both characters are incredibly interesting and layered. Isaac’s obsessive search for life beyond our universe is his way of dealing with a loss that has created a hole in his own universe. While Clara’s illness and anxiety are juxtaposed with spacial imagery, symbolizing her impermanence. Through the character’s development and relationship, the director draws comparisons between rationality and emotion, faith and science, mind and space.
While the film is not perfect, with its manic pixie dream girl trope – Clara being used simply as a plot device to help Isaac on his journey – it also provides a big scientific breakthrough. The film is rooted in science. As Sherman explained during the Q&A, while writing the script, he did four months of research on astronomy and hired academic professionals and a former NASA scientist to help him create and sift through all kinds of data. The discovery that Isaac and Clara make is achieved through a scientific technique that has yet to be discussed and utilised on an international scale, but was highlighted and published in an academic journal by the advising scientist working on the film.
Some of the best aspects of the film are Sherman’s direction and visuals. Both are simplistic, but at the same time, levels above some of the most seasoned directors. The visual effects used in the film are provoking and honest. Other than Clara’s manifestations, the depictions of the stars, nebulas, and the sun, Sherman says, all came from real imagery taken from the SDO laboratory that the filmmaker himself would stitch together. This created an authenticity that is often missed in films that are created around their visual effects.
Just like other works of the genre, like Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, the film provides storytelling that pays so much time to the science, while also providing a very human narrative. While introducing the film, Sherman explained that the importance of human connection and the complexities of human relationships inspired him while writing the film. This is perfectly shown throughout Clara thanks to its characters, as their bond becomes something stronger than they could have imagined, providing an ending to their story that is thought-provoking, profound, and simply human.