This covers what was happening to Jane in the film (and why!), and the ending. Very spoilery, in all dimensions. (My 4/5 review is here)
“In a world of quantum science, anything that can happen will happen. Every choice you make creates infinite possibilities, infinite worlds, where each outcome exists.” So says Professor Aaron Östergaard (Conleth Hill) in Infinitum: Subject Unknown, and it’s an idea that is both comforting and terrifying. Every screw-up in my world must surely be a great triumph by another more astute, or luckier, Sarah in another.
I won’t lie, quantum physics isn’t my strong point, my understanding of time more David Tennant’s timey-wimey Tenth Doctor than Stephen Hawking’s Brief History of Time, which will remain on my bookshelf gathering dust and unread until the universe itself has imploded, except in that one universe where I’ve finished it and understood every word (wait a minute, maybe that’s where this theory falls down).
“It is only now however that we are able to see behind the curtain. We’ve bridged the void between the worlds,” So says Dr Charles Marland-White (Ian McKellen), in his talking heads segment at the start of the film, explaining that all the big world powers have been working on parallel universes and telekinesis for decades. This development “is propelling evolution to a staggering new dimension”, and sets the scene for a scientific body that sees the distress and actual lives of different versions of the same person, their experimental subjects, as too small in the grand scheme of things to really worry about.
At the end of the film, Jane is killed, or switched off, her death ordered by a nameless man. Jane has just met other versions of herself though it’s not clear how the different Janes were conjured up.
Clearly each Jane thinks they’re the Main Jane so to speak, but were they made, or discovered? Well, we know that at least one parallel world has actually been found, as Jane reads about it on the front of a magazine called (ha!) Lone Planet, in the library of the Wytness Centre.
In my interview with Tori and Matt Butler-Hart, they explain that the film is based on another idea for a feature film that they had. You can read the full interview here but this is the key passage for the “where is Jane from?” question:
“We’d been working on the bigger world of Infinitum for years and there’s a feature script which has the creation of the actual experiment of creating these quantum physics ‘super agents’ who can control reality and using the parallel worlds as testing grounds… Tori came up with the idea of making a companion piece, or introduction, into the world of Infinitum, and look at just one of the test subjects that gets trapped in the experiment.“
So the scientists discovered the parallel worlds then created Alternate Janes for their experiments in and between these worlds — where Jane gets stuck. (It’s possible they collected their Janes from the worlds they discovered, but as far as we know they’ve only found one other world so far.)
“Our Jane”, we discover, is stuck in an infinite time loop, which resets to previous sections if she becomes overly stressed or the scientists want to remove her.
At the end of the film she meets an American woman who looks just like her. American Jane tells Our Jane that in parallel worlds there are infinite possibilities, therefore one of those had to be that a Jane gets lost among the worlds. American Jane is most likely working on the experiment, studying versions of herself, though maybe she’s simply The Jane Who Knows What’s Going On — there has to be one, just like there has to be one Jane Lost Between Worlds. She’s a chilling character, able to separate herself mentally from the suffering of other versions of her.
Several scenes show how Our Jane is stuck between different versions of reality, even if we don’t know it until later in the movie: the view from her attic window at the start of the film, which moves from gentle suburbia to a burning bombed-out wasteland; the library scene with scientists appearing and vanishing as if on grainy film; and of course the times Our Jane drives straight over Another Jane who then vanishes.
The Butler-Harts also said in our interview that the film is not directly about lockdown, though it would be impossible not to be affected by it. As a viewer, watching it now, you can see why it feels like a COVID metaphor.
Certainly in the early minutes watching a terrified, confused Jane screaming for help against a closed window high in the eves of the house, the view outside her window turning from suburban calm to black and white burning carnage, looks very much like a lockdown allegory. People are stuck indoors, many completely alone; the world outside is deceptively quiet and empty while the invisible virus causes destruction. Away from COVID, the film also seems to me to be about identity: who we are, whether we really are unique and special, the idea that in other universes another you is having a better or worse time, whether we have a responsibility to others. All of these could be frightening or comforting depending on your situation.
Okay, that’s my take on what the film is about. No doubt there’s another Sarah somewhere right now shaking her head, but so be it. This was always destined to happen this way.
Now for the plot, particularly the denouement which takes place in the Wytness Centre, a scientific institute in the English countryside — if you are worried you missed something, here’s what happens.
It’s reasonably upfront about what has happened to Jane, if not about the details of the experiments. We know from the start that she’s being observed by cameras, and it soon becomes apparent that her observers can, if her choices demand it, put her right back where she was. After that first tentative attempt to undo the ropes around her wrist when she first wakes up in that attic room, she’s soon an expert at it, as those moments replay.
One of the most unnerving scenes — because we too are at this point trying to work out what is happening — is near the start, when Jane finally finds a way out of the doorless attic room, down through a trap-door and a dark staircase. What should be a trip of at most one or two storeys downwards becomes a slog of hours, as the staircase just keeps on going. It’s only when she takes off her gag and leaves it on the stairs, coming across it a few minutes later as she keeps supposedly walking downwards, that she has evidence.
Her escape into the rest of the (outwardly mundane) house just delivers her to another temporary prison, as she repeatedly has to try to get out into the car on the driveway, and the streets. In the car is a letter from the Wytness Centre, and when Jane starts hearing walkie talkie messages from another woman, she starts to make her way to the centre.
The woman who keeps calling her is actually another Jane: “They are using us,” says the voice at the end of the walkie talkie, of the scientists. She warns Our Jane she has to be careful as she gets near the centre. When Jane finally gets into the Wytness Centre the weirdness is stronger, different lives and timelines crashing into each other.
Once inside, she makes her way to the library where scientists appear and disappear as if on grainy footage. She finds Lone Planet magazine with the front cover headline “Parallel world discovered”, then she’s back outside on the grass again.
She goes back inside and makes her way to an upstairs communal office with computers. It’s empty, and she watches a couple of DVDs she finds, taken from a pile: it’s the recordings of Dr Marland-White and Professor Östergaard explaining their discoveries. A third DVD has footage of an identical Jane in an outhouse tied to a chair. Our Jane later finds this outhouse trough a wooden door in the research centre. The other Jane looks terrified before falling to the floor, dead.
Back in the house, through another heavy wooden door, Our Jane finds yet another Jane, this time in a black catsuit and red ballet shoes, dancing in a workout studio to jaunty wartime music. Our Jane leaves, before being let in again to what is now a games room filled with pool tables and comfy sofas. There’s another smiling Jane curled up on one of them.
This is American Jane, who tells Our Jane she knew Our Jane would come back as she always does, before asking if she was stuck between the worlds; oh yes, and that Our Jane didn’t believe her last time either. “We’re all here. All the many possibilities, happening all at once. You’re just the outcome that happens to be lost.” American Jane explains. Our Jane is simply on a predetermined path to be lost. It had to happen to one of the Janes, over and over, “ad infinitum”.
Our Jane is in the hall again, then in a dark tunnel with a growling animal. Terrified, she backs away into the hall, hand outstretched to keep it at bay, pleading “please no!”. Then she hears a disembodied voice: “preparing to disconnect subject on 3, 2, 1…”
Infinitum: Subject Unknown is available on DVD and digital from retailers including: