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Beautiful Dreamer is a heartbreaking short film that channels Arrival and Black Mirror

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Based on a short story by Ken Liu

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If you’ve ever read one of Ken Liu’s stories, you’ll know that he’s a master at writing something that will pack an emotional, devastating punch. Filmmaker David Gaddie recently released an adaptation of Liu’s 2012 short story Memories of My Mother, a heart-wrenching short that calls to mind brilliant science fiction stories such as Arrival and Black Mirror.

The story’s premise is simple: a young mother is ill with an unnamed, terminal disease. With only two years left to live, she decides to stretch out her remaining years by going into space, using relativity to slow down time and visiting every few years so that she can watch her daughter grow up.

Liu originally published Memories of My Mother in Daily Science Fiction, a website that e-mails a piece of flash fiction to you each day. Liu explained to The Verge in an e-mail that he couldn’t remember the exact moment of inspiration for the story, but that he “was trying to tell the story of the arc of a life via these vignettes taken at different points in the arc — and letting the reader fill in the spaces in-between”. The brevity of Memories of My Mother makes it a marvel of a short story that grips, you in just a handful of paragraphs.

Gaddie told The Verge that he first encountered the Liu’s work with his story The Paper Menagerie. He approached the author for the rights to adapt it, only to find that they weren’t available. Instead, Liu pointed him to Memories of My Mother. Gaddie explained that what appealed to him the most about this story was that it made him cry when he read it. “Ken's sensitivity and ability to tell stories that are bigger than the technology, that are more human stories that are told through the kind of the lens of technology is what is really appealing,” he explained, and says that he has small children, and related to the idea of “watching your children growing up, while you remain this kind of static figure to them.”

Liu doesn’t really describe the world surrounding his characters, so Gaddie had to come up with a visual world that evolved over decades. Drones fly by windows, while holographic pictures line the walls of the characters’ home. But while he had to show off the technology, Gaddie opted to keep it in the background. “I want to keep the tech simple and integrated as much as possible,” using technology minimally to focus on the emotional story rather than the technological one.

Gaddie says that he isn’t done with Liu’s work just yet. His next project, he says, is another adaptation of one of the author’s novellas, The Regular, which follows a private detective who is hunting for a serial killer who has been stealing cybernetic upgrades from his victims.

Beautiful Dreamer is now available to watch on Vimeo and on Amazon Video.