Saturday, May 21, 2011

Dear Charlie:

So, Gamer.

On the surface, this is a simple movie. It takes a universal fear -- that pesky fear of being controlled from outside, of not being able to act of your own volition or, worse, being forced to act against your own volition -- and turns it into pure action porn. I'm in.

But it's oh, so much more than that.

Scratch the surface of this flick, and you have yourself a philosophical debate on par with the first Matrix movie. Now, don't start sputtering: I'm not saying doctorate level peeps will be dissecting the moral and social implications of a movie only a few steps shy of a skin flick in places. I'm just saying that it goes a lot deeper than a murder-mart video game, mind control, and the disturbingly plastic and emotionless sex that happens in Society.

The basic set-up, for the folks at home, is that a seemingly philanthopic genius invents a nanotechnology that engenders mind control. This certifiable fruitcake turns this tech (originally intended to create an army of invincible, immortal supersoldiers, and hey, what harm could that do?) into a simulation game called Society. Think Sims, but with real people, actors, being controlled by real people, total perverts.

But Castle, this supposed philanthropist genius nutbar, isn't done yet.

With the prison system overflowing and the world economy teetering on the brink of collapse -- um... this is just a movie, right?? -- Castle introduces a new, even more successful game, SLAYERS. Yes, it has to be typed in all-caps.

Remember the recent remake of DeathRace? SLAYERS is kinda like that, but with the added creepiness of that mind-control thing. Take a bunch of lifers, suit 'em up with ammo and a bit of that nifty nanotech, and let the people paying ungodly sums of money to control them blow them all up.

Who wouldn't sign up for this? It's the ultimate video game experience, something neither X-box, PlayStation, nor the Wii can yet provide, thank God. You aren't controlling an incredibly realistic portrayal of a human in cyberspace. You're controlling an actual human being in a vacant city block somewhere.

You're killing an actual human being. Or using said human to kill another one.

See what I mean? Philosophical, dude.

As for that philanthropy part, Castle's new game generates a shit-ton of revenue that gets funnelled back into the prison systems and the economy, simultaneously getting everything back on track and clearing out superfluous death-row inmates to make room for new ones. Handy. He becomes something of a financial Savior to the people.

Plus, they, like, totally love playing the game.

But scratch a little deeper, and you see the real genius here. It's not just in the writing or the development, but in the acting and directing. I mentioned before how all the actors in Society look plastic and emotionless, and I meant it. These are actors being controlled by outside forces. They literally cannot not do whatever their player directs them to do.

One of the establishing shots shows a rollerblader plowing over this poor chick just standing there. The chick is physically injured, bleeding from a ridiculous amount of roadrash from the collision and fall, and yet... because the player thinks it's hilarious, this poor girl has to sit there laughing even while her body cries from the pain. The total asshole controlling her even makes her lick the blood from her destroyed arm.

Now, does that statement above make more sense? These people are not emotionally invested in whatever happens to them in Society. Their bodies are puppets... but puppets that can feel everything happening to them. That can emotionally respond, but not express. Sometimes, you can see their pain, their loss, in their eyes, but other times? Nothing. Vacant. Nothing there.

It's creepy as hell.

SLAYERS is worse, though. Spoiler alert: the main guy, Kable -- played to gut-wrenching perfection by the ever-talented Gerard Butler -- never actually killed anyone (outside of military combat, we can assume, though we're never told for sure other than that he was a perfect soldier before the film's events) when he was sent to death row for murder. But put him out on that battlefield, and he is an instrument of death. Because his player -- a 17-year-old kid, if you can dig it -- directs him to.

Though, Kable admits that, while someone else moves him around and positions him and aims, he's the only one pulling that trigger. Yes, he is infinitely capable of killing. I think we all are, when we have nothing else.


At any rate, while the Society freaks force sexual encounters (though the pundits would debate the word "force", since these actors voluntarily agreed to act in Society and are being paid for their services; it's a job), the SLAYERS folks are forced to kill or be killed. Rape is one thing; murder, even in the name of survival, is another.

And the light at the end of the tunnel? If they survive -- not win; survive -- thirty sessions, they get a full pardon. They get to go free.

No one's survived more than ten.

Except Kable. He's on #27. Yes. He is a complete badass.

He doesn't want to kill, but he wants out. He left a wife and kid outside. He didn't voluntarily commit the murder he was tried and sentenced for. He's not a violent man, under normal circumstances.

But he wants out. And he'll do whatever he has to.

You really have to see this flick to get the feel of it. I can tell you about how amazing a job they did of making the SLAYERS footage look like an actual (but live-feed) video game. The MMORPG from Hell, maybe. I can tell you about the soulless looks on the faces of those Society people in all their robot-moving glory.

I can even tell you that Terry Crews -- yes! Cheeseburger Eddie! -- gets to run around psychotic and naked and covered with blood from a fresh kill that wasn't prompted by anything but his own creepiness.

But I can't tell you how you'll feel when you watch Kable's reaction to finding his wife stuck in a hellish, forced encounter with a fellow Society freak and to her subsequent inability to respond to him with anything other than her eyes as her player tries to grab his junk. I can't tell you how whacked out it is to watch a small army of zombie-looking toughs dance to a showtune while Castle pulls their mental strings in a pre-fight display of creepy power.

I can't tell you how disconcerting it is to realize that this 17-year-old manipulator of murder can't quite grasp the fact that he's using Kable as a weapon as truly as if he were holding the gun himself. When a particular prisoner that's been chummy with Kable dies right before his dismayed eyes in the game, this little punk has the audacity to casually remark, "Gibs."

Like gibblets. Pieces. Of human being.

And Kable's the death row convict? Riiiiiight.

Look, I'll admit it: the first time I watched it, I was all about the action. And the action is done frickin awesomely well. It looks both jerky and sleek in the battle scenes, which you'd think a live-action MMORPG would look. It looks hyper-real in Society, which is perfectly on-par with the surreal aspect of the whole idea. This is, by all means, a well-done movie.

But the more you watch it....


The more you watch it, the more you have to think about it. And it very quietly gives you plenty to think about. Would you have the brass cajones to buy yourself a convict to control? Would you get a thrill from directing your Society human robot to soullessly have raunchy, weird sex with a complete stranger?

Or, on the flip side, would you volunteer to be controlled? Could you allow your body to be used, either as a weapon or just plain used?

I'm a resounding NO to all of those questions. But I still watch, fascinated despite myself. Maybe I wouldn't be a participant in either simulation, but... dammit, I can't promise I wouldn't be one of the billions of spectators rooting Kable on.

Philosophical, dude. Philosophical.

Watch. The. Movie. I'm seriously. And think about it. I mean, what else do you have to do, now that the Rapture is indefinitely postponed?


At 12:15 AM, Blogger GutterBall said...

Oh, yeah. I should probably also point out that critics almost unanimously HATED this flick. They whined and moaned about the social implications of finding anything entertaining about mind control, remote-control violence, the Roman colluseum mindset involved in the simulation, and all that gratuitous nudity and sex.

Again, I feel obliged to remind us all of one simple fact: movies are for entertainment purposes only.

Sheesh. Not a hard concept.

Anything you take from a movie beyond pure entertainment is a bonus. If you get a thrill, kudos. If you find enlightment, good for you. If you find a talking point for around the water cooler the next day, bravo.

If you freakin HATE it, pop it out and put in another. I hear Brokeback Mountain won some awards or something. Good luck with that.

At 4:24 PM, Blogger Sherri said...

This is the first positive review of Gamer I think I've seen. I enjoyed the movie (and not just because of Gerard Butler). Still remember an interview where Butler joked about the three people who saw the movie.

At 8:26 PM, Blogger GutterBall said...

Ha! Me, too! I hate to admit I've youtube-searched a couple of those interviews, but hey.

That accent gets me every time. Why don't they let him do it more often??


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