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What if you could change your destiny by going back in time? Altering the very fabric of reality as you know it to instantly satisfy your deepest cravings for riches and luxury? This seeming Afrofuturistic interpretation of the Nigerian Dream offers itself as the premise of Anthill studios’ latest offering, DOD (Day Of Destiny). Hollywood may have long moved past this phase but within the larger context of New Nigerian Cinema, co-directors Akay Mason (Elevator Baby) and Abosi Ogba grasp the opportunity to breathe life into a tired concept.
For old Nollywood, destiny was rigid and unchanging. In dull and rinsed tones, men were eternally bound to the will and craftiness of the gods and their whimsies. Those foolish enough to defy them were met with sudden tragedy and death. DOD has different ideas and while the gods would have replied this blasphemy with thunder and lightning in Old Nollywood, here they are complicit.
Opening up at a party in the past, Mr. and Mrs. Oluremi (played by Norbert Young and Ireti Doyle) recant the story of their love at first sight encounter to their last-born daughter and favorite, Helen (Gbemi Akinlade). Shunted back to the present, they are abruptly interrupted by Helen’s brother, Chidi (Olumide Oworu), who implores his younger sister to help with moving the boxes that litter the house.
Olumide Oworu is a name that will no doubt ring a number of bells for many viewers. The talented The Johnson’s actor has, for much of his career, plied his trade on the small screen. I was slightly concerned that his role as Chidi might simply just be a small reimagining of Tari Johnson from The Johnson’s. While he isn’t given a lot to work with, he more than delivers as the film’s lead and the chemistry he shares with the younger, more conventional brother played by Rotimi (Denola Grey) is certainly one of the film’s biggest highlights.
Echoing much of Nigeria’s growing middle-class struggles, the Oluremi family is downsizing, leaving behind their urban home for a supposedly simpler life at their family home. Chidi is the typical rebellious eldest son. Unconventional and obsessed with pursuing a career in music, his father wants him to study law. Sound familiar? This creates a visible strain in their relationship, one that’s only exaggerated by Chidi’s other obsession – averting the scourge of poverty.
Chidi represents much of the growing fears of Nigerians who, under President Buhari’s economy, have steadily watched previous affluence gradually diminish. In context of this, he repeatedly berates poverty, staring up into the air as he shouts “Poverty na bastard” and “Why my papa no be Dangote?”. As he continues his lament, he stumbles upon a picture of his father as a younger man (played by Blossom Chukwujekwu) standing with Coker Adediran, who in present times, is the current Governor of Lagos state.
Upon inquest, he finds out that his father was once friends with Governor Coker and even received a “mouthwatering offer” from Coker’s powerful Uncle, Chief Adediran (Jide Kosoko), which he turned down. From this, Chidi summarily concludes that his father was antithetical to conventional wisdom by not ‘securing the bag’, leading to a well written confrontation between father and son, where Mrs. Oluremi painstakingly points out what value Chidi must learn – integrity. How will he learn this by travelling back in time?
Time travel films often operate with a specific set of rules. Scientific ‘mumbo jumbo’ that guides how its interpretations of the nature of time travel work. This typically raises the stakes for a climax where characters will have to deal with the consequences of whatever actions they have taken. When Chidi and Rotimi accidentally stumble upon the building that houses Babayaro’s (played by Broda Shaggi) destiny altering contraption, he gives them one rule – “Once you change your destiny, you can never change it back.”
His words are specifically left vague by the filmmakers, which almost means that there are no rules. Our protagonists prance around from scene to scene and we never really know why we should be concerned. Why do their actions matter? The film doesn’t give answers except for the vague moral lesson of integrity. Instead, it feels like they’re going to prance around for a bit, realize they’ve messed up, and then somehow fix things up. Which, yes, is exactly what happens.
After Chidi and Rotimi “change their destiny”, they come back to a present in which they were never born. Their father married someone else and became the governor of Lagos state, while their mother is a prominent poet and political activist. They’ve given their parents much better lives; lives that they see they will have no part in, and so they resolve to “fix things”. Even though doing so will erase the lives of everyone who’s been brought into existence by their previous actions, they don’t give it a second thought.
Babayaro informs them that they both have three hours left to live. The trick, however, is that they need to find someone else who is willing to change their own destiny and hope that this somehow affects theirs. This means that they will have to convince a stranger to change their past. It also means that this stranger’s destiny must be tangential or somewhat interconnected to their own.
But this raises a couple of problems. How do you convince a complete stranger to willingly change the only life they’ve ever known? If they can point to the examples of Chidi and Rotimi who are both dying because of their actions, why would they willingly take that risk? What are the odds of finding someone like that? Even if they do find someone like that, how could they be sure that it will produce the completely desired outcome that they’re looking for? What past are they going back to? One where Chidi and Rotimi’s past selves are already trying to tamper with? How can that be the past if Chidi and Rotimi were never born? And then again, how can that not be the past if the original timeline was only changed as a result of their specific actions? Difficult questions but the script gives us easy answers. Easy answers that mar an otherwise brilliant narrative, one full of engaging performances and strong direction.
Perhaps, time travel is all just a metaphor. Chidi is a young man who wants nothing more than to “blow”. Anxious to be losing out on his dreams, he lashes out in frustration. When he’s offered a bite of the apple, he indulges himself, manifesting the gravest consequences of the get-rich-quick syndrome. Who’s to blame?