The movie begins with a shot of Alexa entering the terrace and lighting a cigarette. We hear her inner voice talking about her childhood dreams. She reflects on how having the ability to live in peace is enough, though her many childhood dreams may not be attainable in adulthood. The director dividing the shot into three parts and repeating the main frame in each of these three sections, emphasizes on the character's imprisonment and suffocation in the environment, even in a simple place as the terrace. Alexa, played by Charlotte Huang, introduces herself to the audience in this simple scene. She is a girl who seems to have come to terms with the difficult circumstances of life and has accepted that childhood dreams are not necessarily desirable or attainable in adulthood. The filmmaker places Alexa's monologue in small text on the screen, so that the audience can read it while focusing on what’s going on.
Each scene in this movie is a mere shot, and the filmmaker has decided to present everything that happens in each scene in a single frame without breaking time or changing the shots. As a result, the movie is divided into different sections or episodes, each presenting a part of the story.
In the first scene, we see the character and can guess that Alexa is going through a difficult time in her life. She has given upon her dreams and is content with being alive. In the second scene, the filmmaker expands on the character. The second scene, which can be a continuation of the first scene in terms of setting, shows Alexa returning to work after taking a break to smoke, a glimpse of her mental state. Conditions that quickly put her on the verge of collapse, going crazy with least of the problems and after all these, she throws her computer keyboard away. The filmmaker's mischief is evident in this scene, where he hopes that his character will look at some news during her break from work to distance herself from the crisis and tension. News of illness, war, horror, insecurity, and death in a world she’s living in. News that in itself is the source of all stress and discomfort. News that gradually fills the entire room with images, and Alexa is seen as a prisoner among them. All of this seems to leave Alexa with no solution other than taking a pill and escaping to virtual reality. After putting on VR headset, the movie's tone changes.
The director of the movie, Francis Cai, who is also the screenwriter, presents a simple story in an engaging way; offering hope for people exhausted by everyday stress to escape to a world of imagination. After entering the world of imagination, Alexa seems curious and excited. Escaping from reality is a solution for her nervous breakdowns, and Francis Cai uses tripartite framing to convey this concept more precisely. Beforehand and in the first scene, the frame division into three repetitive views reconstructs a kind of imprisonment. The character is imprisoned in her work environment. However, in the fourth scene, we see Alexa stepping out of the left frame and re-entering from the right, which symbolizes a kind of liberation. By escaping from the reality of the world, Alexa returns to her school days. By returning to the past, we can understand some of the roots of her current unrest. She tells one of her friends who is sitting in class how much she misses her, but no one listens to her. She is just an observer of these scenes. In this scene, we also see images of Alexa's attempts to break free from her environment on the big stage curtains. We see her banging on doors in distress while trying to talk to her former classmates.
After that, under control, Alexa is being taken to a quarantine center. Is this what happened in the past, and now Alexa is reliving that memory? Or are we no longer in the world of imagination? Given the nature of the news that we saw on Alexa's computer in the second scene, which included news similar to that of the COVID-19 pandemic, we do not know if the scene where Alexa is taken to quarantine is imaginary or real, related to the past or present. Francis Cai's feature in this movie is that with a few simple visual techniques and twists and turns, he confuses us about the recognition of time and place in the narrative. We don't know if we're watching the past or the present. We don't know if we're inside Alexa's nightmares or if what we're seeing is reality.
The ending of the movie returns to Alexa's first sentence on the terrace, where she talked about accepting reality and giving up on her dreams. At the end of the movie, she returns to this topic and speaks of her dream. Both she and we, as audiences, have taken a short trip to the past, and it seems that forgetting dreams brings nothing but nightmares. In her dream, Alexa has gone on a journey to the past, not her imagination, because the photo she took during that journey is with her today and is next to her at the end of the day. A photo that seems to emphasize more than anything else on the impact of human dreams on their lives. Can a person overcome the difficulties and anxieties of life without dreams?
The movie is directed in such a way that it has the greatest impact on its audience in a short period of time. It also tries to minimize dialogues as much as possible to express concepts through images rather than words. The writer and director of the film also knew that if he made his message too verbal and wordy, the effectiveness of the message would be lost. Thus, the movie relies more on images than anything else. Images that are restrained, controlled, and concise. Images that are minimalist in expressing ambiguous issues in the most minimal way possible.
“Sinking into The Afterglow” is a remarkable experience both in terms of its content and production method. The movie tries to express issues in a simple way that is a problem for many people in today's world.