The Key unlocks the refugee experience.

Director Celine Tricart was stunned when she learned that refugees often keep the keys to their homes – even if they have been gone for 20-30 years, even if their houses have been destroyed and they can never return. A key is the one item that can’t be let go. This symbolism plays a guiding role in The Key, Tricart’s VR experience that parallels the hardships faced by those displaced from their homes.

One of Tricart’s biggest hurdles was how to present the story during a time when a global refugee crisis has created emotional fatigue around the subject. “It’s not that people don’t care – most people do care — but they feel so helpless and don’t want to let that feeling in,” Tricart says. “The beautiful power of VR is that it helps us to get around those emotional walls and present the story to participants in the best way possible.”

The Key was created in partnership with Friends of Refugees, a U.S.-based organization that empowers refugees through opportunities for education, employment and well-being. During the experience, participants move through four distinct dream-like environments that represent aspects of a refugee’s journey through a metaphorical approach. Along the way, they confront challenges, act on split-second decisions and endure losses. This poetic journey allows viewers to empathize with those who are escaping conflict and persecution to create a new life.

A woman named Anna leads us through The Key, unlocking her memories and dreams along the way. At points, viewers are unsure of who they can trust and what might be taken from them as they travel to the next destination. The heartache is palpable as excruciating decisions and sudden losses are heaved upon the viewer, including the paralyzing feeling of being in limbo – not in danger, but not able to move forward. Finally, a kind stranger offers help, restoring clarity and comfort to the viewer’s experience.

As Anna deciphers her memories, unveiling to the viewer why she carries her key, Tricart avoids inundating the viewer with facts and figures. Instead, the truth is revealed with one frame. “It’s more of a feeling – an emotional journey versus facts,” Tricart says.

With The Key, Tricart aims to shift perspectives from pity to admiration. She also hopes it will galvanize support for Friends of Refugees and inspire participants to take simple actions that can better the world.

Says one participant, “I was having this unexpected human experience that made me want to do more.”