A select number of beings can reincarnate. When they are reborn, they have total recollection of their past lives by the time they reach puberty. Over the years a splinter has formed in this offshoot of humanity. The Nihilists consider their reincarnation a curse and want to put an end to all of humanity. The Believers try to aid humanity while preventing the Nihilists from destroying all life.
For the most part, the premise hooked me. I have a story which explores reincarnation and the emotional effect it has on the protagonist. Similar parallels can be found in the movie The Old Guard on Netflix. The latter, in my opinion, executed better with the clearly defined character stakes.
The villain’s motive
The antagonist, Bathurst belongs to a subsect of the Infinite called the Nihilists. They believe reincarnation is a curse as they will be witness to the destruction of mankind and none of their efforts will prevent it. Bathurst devises a weapon that will kill all of life on earth. Fortunately for the world, a previous life of the main protagonist steals the weapon and hides it.
Bathurst later reveals his hatred of reincarnation is more personal. He, unlike the rest of the Infinite, gains his memories in the womb. He is isolated and driven to the brink of madness while he awaits his birth.
The story tried to make the audience empathize with the villain. After all, his predicament does sound maddening. But with the personalization now arises a different stake. If he is personally afflicted, why does it matter the fate of the rest of the world? Why not end your won resurrection and free yourself of the madness?
Unfortunately, the story shows this as a possible solution. Bathurst himself creates a weapon called the Dethroner that will rip the soul from someone and digitize it. Apparently, since the soul is bound to something physical, it remains locked in stasis.
With both points in consideration, why wouldn’t Bathurst direct Dethroner on himself and seal his soul on a microchip? Done. He’s free from the maddening isolation of the womb. He’s free of reincarnation.
Shift the personal stake to Bathurst’s lover. His lover suffered from the reawakened memories in the womb. In the past life, they confide in Bathurst and begs Dethroner used against them. On their deathbed, Bathurst does that, but the emotional toll sends him into a dark spiral. Life isn’t fair. The world isn’t fair. The Infinite should not exist, not with the misery they accumulate with each passing life.
With the personal conflict established, narrow the macro stakes to the Infinite themselves. And their descendants.
Nothing in the story suggests the Infinite can’t have children. With children opens the implications of DNA. While the children of Infinite may not become Infinite themselves, they do carry the marker. Now, consider the number of people who carry this marker since the first generation of Infinite conceived and bore children? I’m sure hundreds of thousands, if not millions, are now possible victims.
Also, it creates an opportunity for internal logic. The Infinite can only be reborn into those who carrier this marker.
Bathurst’s weapon will kill all the Infinite and anyone who carries this marker. The stakes are still high, and it makes sense.
The Protagonist’s Motive
Most of the story involves the main character, Evan McCauley, discovering whether he is the Infinite known as Heinrich Treadway. Most of the conflicts exist in the uncertainty. The greatest conflict results from the Believers taking extreme measures to reawaken Evan’s memories by visiting the Artisan, an Infinite who specializes in neurosurgery.
Evan, who still hasn’t regained his memories as Heinrich Treadway, is asked to undergo a supervised drowning. The intent is to bring him to the brink of death where all his lives will flash before his eyes. Evan agrees, even as the Artisan indicates the survivability is only probable.
Evan isn’t convinced he’s Heinrich. He is risking his life to prove whether this fantastical tale of reincarnation is real. When asked if he is willing to try the procedure, he shrugs his shoulders and agrees.
The illogical setup to this decision robs it of the tension the writers sought. The audience knew Evan would live. So, all the dialogue wasted in the attempt to establish this procedure as dangerous is a waste. It detracted from the tension, not tighten it.
Possibly change the drowning procedure to something else. Draw from Flatliners where the Artisan uses a chemical to cause the death. When the procedure is discussed, don’t try to increase the stakes by describing it as unpredictable. This will align with Evan’s current tolerance.
Establish a time threshold. This procedure must be completed within X number of minutes. With time ticking, and a threshold established, the tension increases with every passing second.
Now, have Bathurst disrupt the near-death scene. Force the Artisan away from Evan, creating a new tension.
Moving the Bathurst disruption during the procedure will address another eye-rolling flaw. Currently, Bathurst wants to kill Evan when it’s revealed he knows where the Egg is located. Bathurst’s goons injure Evan and kill another Infinite. When the group decides to flee, another Infinite named Kovic decides to fight the Nihilists to buy his party time.
The camera reveals a room full of guns. Someone even comments on the quantity and scope of his weapons. Kovic uses some weapon that eliminates all the goons within a few second. Of course, Bathurst isn’t in the room when all the goons die. He’s conveniently outside the hallway, and since hallways are made of one inch steel plates, the bullets never pose a risk. Then, Kovic fights Bathurst with an ax instead of using any number of guns still available.
With the proposed changes to the near-death procedure and the timing of Bathurst’s disruption, the guns can be used against the goons. Bathurst can still wait in the hallway while his goons die. Once Evan is saved and confirms he knows where the Egg can be found, the party decides to flee. They barricade behind a door in the hallway. The Nihilist blow it up. A gun fight continues. The party flees. Kovic decides to buy them time. He eliminates the rest of the goons and is forced to use his axe when he runs out of bullets.
Now everything makes sense and the tension is near the breakpoint. Everything is right in the world.
The remainder of the story can remain intact except that Bathurst will now know of the Egg’s existence when he reviews the video of Evan’s revival. With these changes in place the story treats the audience with the respect they deserve. All the spoon-feeding currently in the movie tastes of distrust and disappointment. My proposed revision creates an internal logic and a plausibility of human motive, allowing for the audience to trust the writers and accept the rest of the story with the benefit of the doubt.