Monday, October 10, 2011

Strange Days

By s. Monday, October 10, 2011 , , , , , , , ,
(145 min, 1995)
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writers: James Cameron (story), James Cameron (screenplay)
Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett and Juliette Lewis

Never fade away

“See... I can get you what you want, I can. I can get you anything, you just have to talk to me, you have to trust me. You can trust me, 'cause I'm your priest, I'm your shrink... I am you main connection to the switchboard of he soul. I'm the magic man... Santa Claus of the subconscious. You say it, you think it, you can have it.”

Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) deals in dreams. Formerly an LAPD vice cop, he now deals in illegal 'squid' recordings - recordings made directly from the cerebral cortex of the participant, which allow the viewer to feel and experience everything the participant experiences as if they were there. One of life's perpetual losers, he ekes out a lonely, miserable existence at the end of the millennium, still pathetically yearning for his beautiful ex-girlfriend Faith (Juliette Lewis), a beautiful singer, and is dependent on his friend Macey (Angela Bassett). But Lenny's life is about to be shattered; when he is anonymously sent the recording of the brutal rape and murder of a prostitute, he and Macey soon find themselves reluctantly embroiled in a dark web of murder, blackmail and intrigue amid the civil unrest surrounding the suspicious death of an influential, politically active rap singer.

What's the best thing about memories? The fact you can replay them in your head, long after the event you're recalling took place. And what's the worst part? It's that they fade away. With time, as with videotapes that have been used too many times, the details dissolve in time – you can't remember the color of someone's eyes, you can't recall anything about the background. The sound of voice escapes your memory, the sense of being there is with you no more. What if you could play the same memories, over and over again, feeling what you felt when you experienced them, in the loop, on repeat, as many times as you like?

“Strange Days” shows the world where it's possible. Your memories are recorded on discs and then you can play them anytime you want. Unlike the movies – you actually experience the contents of the disc. This creates many opportunities given that the memories you view don't have to be your own. Kinky sex, dangerous sport, running when, let's say, you can't walk – you can feel all of that. Lenny Nero can make this happen. He is a disc dealer who develops addiction of them of his own – he keeps replaying his memories with his ex-girlfriend, Faith, who left him for record producer. Lenny still loves Faith, he keeps stalking her and when he's not doing that he feeds off used emotions, unable to let go.

That fascination blinds Lenny so much he doesn't see someone who is right next to him, willing to do anything he asks – his friend Macey, strong and fierce driver, single mother and a person of very strong personality. Macey does things for Lenny, he does for Faith – insane things, stupid things, done solely out of love and desire to protect. I make it sound like “Strange Days” is some sort of love triangle – it is, but it's only one of many elements of this terrific movie. Love stories aside, it's also a fascinating portrayal of the world (the movie's events take place right before the beginning of the year 2000, the movie was shot in 1995 – I can't decide why they didn't set it somewhere later in the future, given that technology that elaborate didn't have a chance to be developed in 5 year-long time. However there is a lot of religious talk in the movie and the sense of impending doom coming with the year 2000, so it's easy to buy) were people get addicted to the slices of their own and other people's lives.

The movie is fantastically shot - director Kathryn Bigelow found that no existing camera system could accomplish the shots necessary for the point-of-view sequences, so Lightstorm Entertainment's research division spent a full year designing and fabricating a special camera for the production. Weighing only 8 pounds, the 35mm camera fit in the palm of the hand and featured interchangeable lenses, remote follow focus, and video assist. The camera was then mounted on a SteadiCam-style portable rig, which gave the camera stability and mobility similar to the human eye. The POV shots are great, we see what the character see. Now they are very common, but 15 years ago it was something very fresh.

The variety of shooting techniques goes well with the messy world of “Strange Days”. Discs containing memories, futuristic clubs, corrupted police, memory-dealers, dark pubs, riots, dirt, sweat. The atmosphere of the movie is fantastic and if there is one thing I love in futuristic films it's the climate. “Strange Days” are definitely, along with “The Matrix”, my favorite science fiction movie of the 90's. But atmosphere like that couldn't be achieved without outstanding soundtrack – Juliette Lewis sings Pj Harvey's songs on stage, depicting real force and wildness.

But what's the use of the best story if you don't have great characters? That's not the flaw of this movie – the three main players are terrific. Lenny is the guy who can love unconditionally. He's also a kind of loser, using his friends, stalking his ex, former cop who lost his job due to illegal activities. But it's impossible not to love him with his whacky ties, great sense of humor (“This tie cost more than your entire wardrobe... it's the one thing that stands between me and the jungle.”) and his complete devotion to save people who he cares about. And let's not forget the way he finally connects the dots and pulls Macey out of the cop car (one of my favorite endings to the movie). It's surreal to watch Fiennes do all of that – finally he is not out there to kill someone or crying when his beloved woman dies, which are things he does most frequently in his films. Don't get me wrong, he does them beautifully, but it's nice to see him play someone relaxed and funny for once.

Angela Bassett was perfect choice for Macey – she's great showing that she could really kick Lenny's ass, but also she loves him so much she's ready for anything to keep him safe. It's also refreshing to see woman that fierce in a movie like that. She's not a damsel in distress, she's perfectly capable of handling the situation on her own, even better than Lenny, who's actually more of a wuss – he gets out of difficult situations because he's clever, not because of using violence. Juliette Lewis is awesome as Faith, wild rock singer, yelling to the microphone in her sexy dress, standing there in the boots on enormous heels. She's really fantastic and her singing abilities are even better than her acting.

“Strange Days” is a movie that terrifies and fascinates. Wouldn't we all want to live in a world where we can experience whatever we want, without dealing with consequences? The easy way is never the right one. Memories are designed to fade. It's what makes them so precious.


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