• 01.06.14

Watch It: “Symmetry” Is a Palindromic Film

Yann Pineill’s graduation project is a short film whose second half is the exact reversal of its first–but there’s more to it than mere rewinding.

Watch It: “Symmetry” Is a Palindromic Film

One neat trick to (very briefly) impress friends at parties is to have a longish palindrome on deck. In a pinch, the sentences “So many dynamos,” and Madam, in Eden, I am Adam” will do nicely. Demetri Martin one-upped most people’s best efforts at showboating symmetry when he unveiled his 224-word palindromic poem, “Dammit, I’m Mad,” in 2009. Now it appears that Martin has been topped as well, by a new short film that functions as a cinematic palindrome.


Symmetry is seven minutes of elegant visual equilibrium. Well, it’s not entirely visual, let’s just say that the music is in harmony in more ways than one. The film starts out with a French couple in bed in their immaculately appointed residence, and ends that way as well. At the halfway mark, though, everything is reversed, and the remaining runtime is the exact opposite of what we’ve just seen. There’s more going on here than a mere touch of the rewind button, though.

Created as a graduation project by Yann Pineill, a director and motion and graphics designer for production house Parachutes.TV, Symmetry starts out by making its title manifest. Examples of symmetry occur in nearly every frame–which is ordinarily part of composition in most films, but here seems almost overwhelming. Whether it’s identical lamps bookending a potted plant, or the chairs on either side of a table, everything is twinning.

After the couple engages in its morning rituals, the male half of the duo seems distraught. We don’t know why. He and his girlfriend might have just broken up, or it might be a simple fight. In any case, he wanders around until he boards a train and promptly gets himself into a situation. At a key moment, though, whilst the protagonist is adjusting a radio, everything shifts. We are now looking at the obverse angle of what we saw before. Shoes are on the other feet, people sit on the opposite sides they sat before, even the camera whooshes in the other direction. Underscoring the change just as it kicks in, a voice on the radio says, “Why is the past different from the future? Because the laws of physics are time symmetric. If clocks were to go backwards in time, instead of…”

Symmetry in films is nothing new. Hell, Paul Thomas Anderson is famous for his absolute mastery of it. Playing with the conventions of symmetry, however, is a clever way to push the medium forward, even if slightly. In terms of storytelling, it also brings to vivid life our frequent desire to go back in time ever so slightly to just before a moment happened.

Watch it twice, maybe, for the sake of you-know-what.

H/t to io9

About the author

Joe Berkowitz is a writer and staff editor at Fast Company. His next book, Away with Words, is available June 13th from Harper Perennial.