‘The Mandela Effect’: Film Review

A grieving father explores the phenomenon of false shared memories after the death of his young daughter in David Guy Levy’s sci-fi thriller ‘The Mandela Effect.’

At one point or another, we’ve all fallen victim to the Mandela Effect. Even former President George W. Bush, who famously declared Nelson Mandela to be dead when the former South African leader was still very much alive. Referring to false memories shared by large numbers of people, the Mandela Effect has now inspired the new sci-fi thriller directed and co-written by David Guy Levy (Would You Rather). Unfortunately, while the “Mandela Effect” is a fascinating phenomenon, The Mandela Effect proves less than successful in its exploitation of it.

The perfunctory storyline centers on computer game designer Brendan (Charlie Hofheimer, 24: Legacy, Mad Men), who is grieving, along with his wife (Aleksa Palladino, Boardwalk Empire, The Irishman), for their young daughter Sam (Madeleine McGraw), who recently died unexpectedly. While going through Sam’s possessions in her bedroom that he can’t bear to clean out, Brendan comes upon her copy of the children’s classic The Berenstein Bears. Except that, much to his amazement, the title is actually The Berenstain Bears. Despite the fact that both he and his brother-in-law Matt (Robin Lord Taylor, Gotham) are firmly convinced that the books they grew up reading were titled The Berenstein Bears (“They were Jewish,” Matt insists), Brendan can find no evidence that the name was ever changed.

The Bottom Line

A fascinating concept, inexpertly rendered.

RELEASE DATE Dec 06, 2019

That’s but one of the well-known examples of the phenomenon — named and popularized in 2010 by “paranormal researcher” Fiona Broome — that are discussed in the film, which for a good portion of its running time seems to resemble a cinematic Wikipedia entry. Matt tests his wife by asking her to describe the Monopoly Man character, which, like many people, she wrongly believes sported a monocle. Then there’s the matter of Curious George, who seems to have mysteriously lost his tail. And Jif Peanut Butter, which used to be called Jiffy…except it wasn’t. Or “Looney Tunes,” which, despite what many people believe, was never called “Looney Toons.” (If the movie was really up to date, it would probably also reference Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election, a form of the Mandela Effect to which Republicans seem particularly susceptible.)

All of this, including a family photograph about which he and his wife have very different memories, leads Matt to explore the idea that perhaps the effect is caused by a parallel universe, perhaps one in which his daughter didn’t actually die. He contacts a famous scientist (Clarke Peters, The Wire, lending the proceedings some much-needed gravitas) who has researched the idea, and soon goes down a rabbit hole of elaborate theories about alternate realities that he explores like a man possessed. It isn’t long before Matt begins experiencing visions of his apparently alive daughter, with whom he enjoys such tender moments as a duet of the song “As Time Goes By” on their piano.

Infused with enough deadening scientific jargon to lull a graduate student to sleep, the film, which feels much longer than its brief 80-minute running time, never succeeds in effectively dramatizing its outlandish premise. The plot twists, including one would-be doozy toward the end, are neither credible nor compelling, the special effects are unconvincing, and the lead performers prove unable to fully sell the outlandish material. The filmmakers should hope that someday in the future enough viewers will sufficiently suffer from the Mandela Effect to falsely remember that this was a better film.

Production company: Periscope Entertainment
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Cast: Charlie Hofheimer, Aleksa Palladino, Robin Lord Taylor, Madeleine McGraw, Clarke Peters
Director: David Guy Levy
Screenwriters: David Guy Levy, Steffen Schlachtenhaufen
Producers: Joshua Fruehling, David Guy Levy, Schlachtenhaufen
Directors of photography: Matthew Chuang, Mike Testin
Production designer: Francis Whitebloom
Editors: Anthony Ocasio, Edwin Rivera, Josh Schaeffer
Composers: Ohad Benchetrit, Justin Small
Costume designer: Kassey Rich
Casting: Geralyn Flood

80 minutes