A Review of Strange Days

“Gas is over three bucks a gallon, the economy sucks, fifth grade kids are shooting each other at recess.”

This is a quote early in the film about how one character is not looking forward to the new year.  The film was released in 1995.  Amazing how prescient some works are.

Yet this film is not merely an exploration of the cyberpunk ethos.  It may be the most effective futuristic noir film since Blade Runner.  It questions many aspects of the mind, which is the whole point of the genre.  In this case, the idea of experience.  The Evil daemon must be laughing at the thought of his movie.  Also, considering the battle between Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron at this upcoming Oscar ceremony.  You see, Cameron wrote the film, and Bigelow directed it.  A study could be made about their work together here.  Besides, it showcases Bigelow’s talents.

Strange Days is a Kathryn Bigelow cyberpunk film that was released in 1995.  It took place in what would have been four years in their future (although it is now ten years in our past) at the dawn of the new millennium.  There is a new sort of “drug” on the streets-virtual reality simulations where people can live out their most desired fantasies based on recordings in other people’s lives.  Nero (Ralph Fiennes) is a former police officer who now works as a dealer in these illegal virtual reality fantasies.  Among his clients are a record producer who is dating his ex lover Faith (Juliette Lewis). This producer has just lost his biggest artist, Jeriko One, a sort of Tupac Shakur figure who has just been murdered.  During his dealings, he comes across a virtual reality recording of a murder of one of his friends.  He becomes convinced there is a killer targeting Faith, yet uncovers a deeper conspiracy dealing with the murder of Jeriko One.

First off, the real reason this film succeeds-the virtual reality scenes.  Well, they are not really scenes.  They are some very inventive pieces of camerawork that manage to transcend their gimmick.  For once, the scenes work exactly as they are supposed to-they make viewers experience someone else’s life.

Is that what this medium is meant to do?  Make audiences experience another life?  How often do we talk about films in the past tense, as though they are something that we, personally, experience? It happens far more often than one consciously realizes.  Maybe, somewhere, these virtual reality simulations are the next wave in entertainment.  Correction, it is here-we can see that with such devices as Project Natal.

Of course, simply being cognizant of the future does not necessarily make for a good film.  The rest of the pieces are there.  Fiennes gives a good performance, emphasizing the fact that his character is meant to be living two lives at once-one real, one fake.  He is constantly fidgeting, constantly trying to talk his way out of situations that he has no idea how he became involved in.  He is as much of an addict as his clients-he constantly relives his previous life that is “meant to fade away.”  Juliette Lewis is another standout-her vocals (her character is a rock singer) are not bad.  Tom Sizemore plays-well he plays Tom Sizemore, but the character does seem to work in context.

But really, the film is a success because of the way it treats its material.  It shows us a world that is not too far away.  It almost seems like we are looking into our past rather than our future.  I understand that there is no law in physics that states time must flow from past to present.  Kathryn Bigelow appears to know this and uses it to her advantage.  Yet she still seems to find merit in our past.

“Movies are still better than playback” Faith explains “Know why?  The music swells up, and then you know it’s over.”  Yet, with the work like this (and the later Hurt Locker) we see that line being blurred.

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