Starla and David review Ultrasound.
Ultrasound: Do You See What I See? by David Buckley
Here’s a burning question: Do you see what I see? The ocean is blue. On that, we can agree, but is your ocean bluer? More vivid? More beautiful? Are you a daily witness to an intensity of color that I have not and will never experience? And is this why you travel and I drink? It’s an age-old question that has, on more than one occasion, kept me up at night.
Rob Schroeder’s 2021 film Ultrasound takes this line of questioning even further. Ultrasound begins as a modern rendition of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. A bad storm (and some conspicuously placed nails) cause a car wreck instead of a shipwreck. Our survivor, Glen (played by Vincent Kartheiser), seeks shelter in a nearby home. It’s no island, but the film makes it feel just as remote.
When Glen knocks on the door, he’s pulled with a handshake into an intricate web spun by a seemingly harmless modern day Prospero named Art. But don’t let Art’s “nice guy” act fool you. This mysterious man (played by Bob Stephenson) may not use magic, but he’s a powerful sorcerer and he works wonders with“his so potent art.”
While he doesn’t have a daughter named Miranda, Art does play matchmaker for his wife Cyndi (played by Chelsea Lopez) who is certainly young enough to be Art’s daughter. Art plucked her at 17, Cyndi later explains, when she was his student and he was her English teacher.
Art tells Glen that the nearest auto repair shop is over an hour away, which leads Glen to reluctantly accept Art’s suspiciously kind invitation to stay the night. That invitation leads to dinner, which leads to alcohol, which leads to a very uncouth proposition. I’ll paraphrase: “I saw the way you were looking at her,” says Art. Glen, of course, denies it. “Well,” Art replies, “I saw the way she was looking at you.”
In the morning, Glen wakes to an empty house, leaves and goes about his life, until months later when Art shows up at Glen’s door to inform him that Cyndi is pregnant. Naturally, Glen and Cyndi decide to shack up.
That’s when Ultrasound takes a disorienting turn. We see Cyndi and Glen playing house while two men monitor them from inside a car. An unforeseen emergency occurs and the men are forced to “extract” Glen and Cyndi before the couple can call an ambulance.
Separately, we see an unknown man in a lab coat (played by Tunde Adebimpe) and an unknown woman in a business suit (played by Breeda Wool) rehearing a very familiar piece of dialogue. It’s familiar because we’ve heard it before. It’s a conversation between Glen and Cyndi.
We also see a completely different woman (played by Rainey Qualley) walk through life totally unaware that she is pregnant. Everyone around her can see that she’s with child, and yet, when she looks in the mirror her reflection is shapely thin. When she struggles to pull her t-shirt passed her pregnant belly, she blames the dryer for shrinking her clothes.
Ultrasound presents all of this without explanation. All we really know is that Art must be behind it all. Eventually, the audience is made to question everything. It’s no longer: ”do you see what I see?” But: “do you remember what I remember?” How did we meet? Yes, I knocked on your door. On that, we can agree, but was it raining? Did I knock on the door of your hotel room or your home? Was I in distress or in pursuit of a drunken hook up?
Ultrasound untangles Art’s intricate web one silk at a time. That is, until the final act when the audience is subjected to a rapid fire of twists and turns, at which point the rest of Art’s web is unspun at a dizzying pace. In the end, I believe all of Ultrasound’s mysteries are resolved. Apart from one: Whether or not I was able to keep up.
I won’t spoil Art’s particular method of sorcery, but I will mention there’s a subplot where we see a politician employing Art’s dark magic. We also learn of Art’s ambition to use his magic on the masses. The film ends with this politician’s reelection and during his victory speech we see Art standing behind him alongside his wife, kids and closest advisors.
In an age where we can’t agree on anything – politics, history, medicine, climate, gender – one can’t help but wonder whether some modern day Prospero has cast his spell. Maybe he’s causing some of us to see a bluer blue, and others a depressing gray. Come next election, maybe you’ll see it my way and I’ll see it yours.