Filmmaker Danishka Esterhazy brings to plate ‘Level 16,’ a 2018 female-centric science fiction dystopian movie of muddying mystery, with a tinge of creative madness. The underrated movie creates its claustrophobic world brick by brick, chronicling the resistance of a group of girls in an oppressive disciplinary institution.
The camera lends a meditative lens, pondering upon Vivien, the protagonist destined for the truth. The background score attempts to create a cerebral droning sound that is dizzying, and the minimal use of light amplifies the drama’s suspense. Katie Douglas delivers a brilliantly dynamic performance in the leading role, and a strong cast ensemble assists her. The twist ending of the suspense movie must grab you by surprise. If you are looking for answers, let us go back to the vile clinic. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Level 16 Plot Synopsis
In the initial scenes, girls line up to apply cream on their faces, and one girl, Sophia, drops the cream. A girl in the queue named Vivien leaves her place to help Sophia, but it’s Vivien’s turn to face the camera. The camera does not find Vivien, the alarm goes off, and a couple of guards take Vivien away. The girls live in a dystopian and windowless facility and have ideological indoctrination sessions, apparently to save them from hysteria.
The seven virtues are obedience, cleanliness, patience, modesty, sweetness, purity, and humility. On the other hand, curiosity, anger, sentimentality, slovenliness, etc., are vices – in short, anything that may cause the girls to doubt the ideology taught to them by the academy. Vivien grows up and is upgraded to level 16, along with some of her batchmates. After she moves into the Rose Hall, Vivien reunites with Sophia, and together, they get to the bottom of the mystery.
Level 16 Ending: Do the Girls Escape?
Like the best of dystopian sci-fi movies, the story is about resistance. The sinister capitalist enterprise called the Vestalis Institute is a patriarchal construct created to satiate male-approved beauty standards. The girls are not even subjects in the eyes of the institution. Instead, they are products of a capitalist enterprise, ready to be sold in the marketplace when they are ripe. We also come to know that Dr. Miro only chose those already dehumanized by poverty.
In this bleak and dystopian ambiance, the story makes us remember the importance of humane emotions, like love, friendship, and empathy. The drugged girls initially live in a state of ignorance, but as Vivien’s powerful personality unveils itself, they come together for a final exposition. After upgrading to the titular level 16, Vivien is upgraded to the Rose Hall, with Rita and Ava. She reunites with her old squint-eyed friend Sophia at the Rose Hall. Sophia secretly instructs her not to take the regular vitamin pills, and Vivien flushes her next dose down in the urinal. This is Vivien’s first step to “disobedience.” She stays awake at night to see the mystery unfolding.
Sophia urges her to call for help if needed and that she would do the same. She also directs Vivien to feign her sleep. Shortly after, Vivien and Olivia are taken to a chamber, where a couple of visits to choose between the two. Although the wife is seemingly carefree, she decides on her husband’s insistence, and Olivia is the scapegoat. They agree to buy Olivia, and Miss Brixil agrees to write the receipt. This is Vivien’s first step to knowledge, as she understands that they are not up for adoption but sale.
The girls are brought up under the strict regime, which keeps them healthy and soft-skinned, to get better prices. This depiction is as symbolic as it gets. To live up to the societal expectation of “womanliness,” women wear many skins in their lives. It is ironic when Sophia and Vivien go to the basement to find Rita’s skin peeled off her face.
The sight is disturbing, and the implications for Rita’s finality present an ominous picture about the girls’ eventual fate at the academy. Vivien and Sophia depart in the tense final moments since Sophia is empathetic towards the others and Vivien is not. But Vivien does not leave her friend – she comes back for Sophia. Sophia tries to make the other boarders understand that the whole facility is a prison, with some difficulties.
Meanwhile, Vivien enters the scene with Miss Brixil and extracts the truth from her reactions. After watching the video advert, Vivien now knows that the facility is neither a school nor a prison – it is a farm for manufacturing sheep out of the girls. Dr. Miro does not care about the girls, and his only concern is their skin. After the exposition, Vivien leads the other girls out of the facility. However, the alarm goes off, and the guards chase the students to the seeming courtyard. The team of girls disperses, while Vivien and Sophia end up in a storeroom.
Dr. Miro attempts to rescue Vivien by reiterating that the facility cares about the girls, but now Vivien knows the truth. Dr. Miro tries to lure Vivien by telling her that she is different from the other girls, but Vivien knows that Dr. Miro only wants her skin. To the doctor’s dismay, Vivien makes several cuts to her skin. The two guards take the doctor away, perhaps to one of his influential sponsors. In the final sequence, the two friends are rescued by the Russian-speaking police force. The implications are that the girls were kept at a shady Eastern European or Russian country.
Who Is Alex? Where Is Miss Brixil?
Alex is a name that is often mentioned in the story, but the audience never meets Alex in person. In the earlier moments, when Miss Brixil has a conversation with Dr. Miro, Brixil expresses her dread over the name of Alex. Later, the friends find out that Miss Brixil is also a sponsor of the darned operation, as her face is also not her own. After the revelation, the girls give Miss Brixil a taste of her own medicine. Sophia, Vivien, and the other girls lock Miss Brixil in the claustrophobic detention chamber.
After the alarm rings and the guards become alert, Miss Brixil may have been rescued from her cell. But the sight of a female rescue agent with a kind face and an official badge reassures the audience in the end. It also implies that Miss Brixil may have been caught. Even if Brixil gets away, the diabolical doctor almost certainly has a tragic ending. In the end, the financers often have covert means to wash their hands, while the doctor is in a trickier situation after the mishap at the facility. The doctor is presumably dead or rotting in jail, but the glaring question that bugs the audience is about the identity of Alex.
Maybe Alex is a financer and a powerful one at that. Miss Brixil is perhaps in ties with Alex but is also afraid of Alex due to his erratic nature. She openly expresses her fear to Dr. Miro, who suggests hastening the process by increasing doses. But Miss Brixil tells him that it is not feasible. Alex runs the operation and brings the customers, and Dr. Miro is seemingly a pawn working under Alex. In the end, the guards perhaps take Dr. Miro to Alex since Dr. Miro has to pay for not being able to live up to the contract.
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