(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Movie: The Centrifuge Brain Project
Where You Can Stream It: YouTube (and below)
The Pitch: A short film following Dr. Nick Laslowicz and his experiments with physically impossible amusement park rides and their effect on cognitive function.
Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: The summer is halfway over, and let’s face it: things aren’t going to magically get better. The summer of 2020 might as well not exist. But we can dream. Dream of escape, of letting go, of finding ourselves out in the world again, amongst the crush of humanity. The Centrifuge Brain Project can be viewed as an amusing little curiosity, with its CGI-created amusement park rides that could never exist in the real world. But there’s something unexpectedly poetic at work here that makes the entire 6-plus-minute film both beautiful and haunting.
The Centrifuge Brain Project
Before seeing the actual short film, I had seen gifs and clips from The Centrifuge Brain Project online several times, and every time, the snippets of footage were presented as something real. People were genuinely fooled (or at least pretending to be fooled) into thinking they were seeing real amusement park rides that whipped people into space at impossible force, or had them defying gravity and floating completely upside down. It’s all highly impossible, and yet…and yet.
Using digital trickery, director Till Nowak is able to create a world that seems both impossible and strangely convincing. There’s a part of our brains that knows what we’re watching is fake. And yet, the footage is presented in such a convincing manner that there’s a tiny part of us that’s ready to be fooled.
“I had no technical reference for the short film,” Nowak said. “I created the manipulated amusement rides and the techy talk just out of my own scientific humor. They are a mix of real physics, absurdity, and deliberate contradictions. The goal was to create the biggest possible mistake, but still make it sound serious and convincing.”
The key to making this all work is Leslie Barany, playing the fictional Dr. Nick Laslowicz, the chief engineer of The Centrifuge Brain Project. While Barany was working with a script, he also found a way to improv around the lines to make his descriptions of the rides more believable. We completely buy that Barany is this mad scientist-like figure, touring the amusement park grounds and conducting experiments.
There are darkly comedic undertones to the entire thing – on more than one occasion, Dr. Laslowicz hints at some catastrophes from the rides over the years while never bothering to mention if anyone got hurt (or worse). “These machines provide total freedom,” he tells us. “Cutting all connection from the world you live in – communication, responsibility, weight. Everything is on hold when you’re centrifuged.”
There’s the Spherothon, which looks like a mechanical virus, and spins participants in such a way that they’re able to float upside down. The SPC Steam Pressure Catapult, which shoots people along different tracks spinning out into the sky at terrifying speeds. The Expander, which allowed those on the ride to control whether or not the spinning car they were in would shoot outward like a bullet fired from a gun. Those are just some of the rides we see as the film unfolds. My personal favorite is the High Altitude Conveyance, which looks like a mutated Ferris Wheel, and is so tall and vast that it ends up being a 14-hour ride.
The rides are always shot from the ground looking up, with most of the footage looking amateurish. It lends an extra touch of realism to the proceedings and also occasionally triggers Lovecraftian terrors as if we are gazing up at impossibly vast elder gods whom we can’t even begin to understand. The entire thing has the effect of a dream, or a dream within a dream. And always there, ever-present, is the sense that all of this is being employed for a higher purpose. That there’s a secret to be unlocked here. As Dr. Laslowicz puts it: “If anything, the mistake is in nature. Gravity is a mistake. We fight the forces that hold us down.”
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