Nov 24, 2012

What is real?

"Movies that fool us into confusing illusion with reality." Is this a movie genre? It should be.

Lots of these are from books. I might have thought The Wizard of Oz was an early example but then I think of Alice in Wonderland from the previous century. I bet the Greeks and Romans had their versions, for that matter. But I want to talk about the modern weird stuff.

Fight Club. Sure had me fooled, and the main character was no better off. Reading the book first was good for me, and I still enjoyed the movie, maybe more so.

Altered States. Woof. Unfortunately my memory is more attuned to impressions than to plot but the overwhelming thing I took away from this was how William Hurt's wowzer of a performance scared the bejeezus out of me. Isolation tanks? No thank you, not for me.

Videodrome. A strange TV program seems to suck viewers into an alternate universe or some such. The first viewing really grabbed me but a second try many years later was disappointing. The idea that watching too much tube can rot your brain could be a subgenre. To wit, the little girl who disappears into TV land in Poltergeist, and the part of Twilight Zone, the Movie, in which a character is unable to escape from a horrific TV cartoon. Come to think of it, this was drawn from the original TV series, which was way before Videodrome. Maybe the writer was a Rod Serling fan.

Fringe. This is a TV show, not a movie, but since a Fringe marathon I've been watching the past two days on the Science Channel is what prompted this, my first post in over a year, it gets a mention. There's lots of stuff about dream states, isolation tanks, brain waves and other "fringe science." One episode is about an embittered computer programmer. He invents a program that invades computers via the Internet, putting up hyonotic images as a virtual hand slowly proceeds from the screen. The hand suddenly clamps down on the viewer's head, liquefying the brain. Ewww...

The Matrix. This one really fooled me. If you've not seen it, no spoiler here. I admired the storytelling and the advanced computer graphics.

The Sixth Sense. Another one I never saw coming, but I bet a lot of people did. Director M. Night Shyamalan seems to like exploring this terrain. Check out his Unbreakable, with Samuel L. Jackson as a dude with a secret agenda it's hard to see coming..

Jacob's Ladder. Tim Robbins wonders if he might be doomed to permanent flashbacks from drugs administered during his tour in Vietnam. Is anything what it seems? A lot less well-known but right up there with Altered States.

Perception. Another TV show, features a genius schizophrenic who intentionally avoids his meds, using his hallucinations to help an FBI agent solve crimes. The agent has a monster crush on the crazy guy, who was once her college professor. Actually this is another sub-genre I'll call "square peg genius finds way to fit round hole and solve crimes." Take The Mentalist - a reformed con man, formerly a psychic, helps a very attractive FBI agent solve crimes. Coincendentally, she also has a crush on her helper. Numbers - father and son geniuses use math to solve crimes, I forget which one is with law enforcement and which is the quirky one. Shows and movies like this always involve supervisors itching to get rid of the nonconformist genius, but they're so good at what they do that the boss can't afford to shut them out. Like the punchline of the old joke...because we need the eggs. If you don't know the gag, you could look it up.

Brazil. Director Terry Gilliam is one weird dude. Mind control is the tool of a relentless bureaucracy. I finally saw it a second time just the other day, many many years after the first viewing. Shades of Brave New World with a sick comic twist. If I ever get Netflix or Hulu I'm going to go through Terry Gilliam's films one by one. I've already seen Time Bandits, And Now for Something Completely Different, The Life of Brian, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and I'd like to see them all again. Looking at the list of Gilliam's movies on IMDB, Jabberwocky is one I want to check out.

The fearsome Jabberwock brings us full circle back to Lewis Carroll and Alice, and with that I bid you good night.