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To some, perhaps a large extent, the ability of a movie to impregnate one with such ideas is a subjective thing. Different stimuli stimulate different minds in different ways. At the same time, we humans are remarkably alike, and I guess I just can't help but assume that the things which excite the blob of gray matter between my ears will do the same for others. In that spirit, I will use this page not necessarily to review movies, but to recommend them and expand on themes. Hopefully others will find the movies to be as successful at provoking thought as I did.
I warn ahead of time that this page may contain some spoilers. I will try to keep them to a minimum, but sometimes it is hard to remain superficial when discussing a deep movie. Therefore, I will rate the spoilerage of a given section with a number between 0 and 3. 0 means there are no significant spoilers at all. 3 means there is very heavy spoilering.
Nash works as a mathematician for MIT who is contacted by a secretive government agency to fight against the (1950's) Russians as a covert cryptographer; this in turn endangers his life. The catch is that it turns out the government contact, and all the code-breaking work he had been obsessing over was in his head: Nash was a schizophrenic. The majority of the movie following that revelation explores Nash's fight to separate reality from the delusions that continue to haunt him and find out which of the events are hallucination and which are really happening.
What is interesting to me is the thought of putting myself in Nash's shoes, the thought of what it would be like to wonder what is real and what is an incredibly complex illusion fashioned by a malfunctioning but powerful brain. It makes one wonder just how far an illusion would have to go to have a person doubt the world around oneself. Not to mention the intriguing possibility that any number of small events or minor characters in ours lives could be completely imagined. The girl I passed on the street who smiled at me may not exist to the world outside of my mind, and I would never know. And the fact is, there is nothing to restrict the illusion to the small scale: my entire reality could be an illusion.
I appreciated this movie for the same reason I appreciated The Matrix; because it explores the tenuous and perhaps imaginary line between reality and a complete or careful illusion. In fact, I think A Beautiful Mind explores that theme more solidly and powerfully than The Matrix did, for it lets the idea creep in slowly and subtly, and it plays off the paranoia of skepticism in a way The Matrix utterly ignored. This movie is definitely worth seeing - it brings an old thought experiment (what if the world is all an illusion) to life in a way that is not based in science fiction but solidly in the very real condition of schizophrenia.
As can be guessed from the title of the movie, the tortured teacher eventually decides to provide the team with the opportunity to use the stolen test to cheat, but only if all of the students agree. What makes the movie interesting though is that it is not shown as a black and white issue. In a previous movie, Stand and Deliver, kids from a poor school were falsely accused of cheating - people just could not believe they had done as well as they did, and the movie was about proving those doubters wrong. However, it is easy to make a movie about some falsely accused kids from a poor school out to prove the system wrong. What Cheaters does is take the harder road to exploring the question with more depth.
Here the students did cheat (though they excelled in portions of the competition like essays, speeches and such which they had no 'help' on). The coach from the rich school which had won over and over again for years (and where the academic decathlon offices were located) had no evidence of cheating except that Stienmetz did well and actually won. However, he uses his connections to talk to the officials and get them to investigate. The officials then declare that the Stienmetz kids must retake the test to prove they did not cheat.
When the allegations come out, the students decide that rather than admit what they did, they will fight it. They deny the allegations and enlist the media to present their side of the story as a poor school getting scrutinized unfairly. The team from the rich private academy had never had their success put under a microscope. No one had any evidence of wrongdoing, except unexpectedly high scores from a poor school.
What is cool about this movie is that explores the situation is a way that is not simplistic. Yes, the kids cheated - but then they had been screwed in the first place by a system which favored private, wealthy schools. Yes, the kids cheated - but no one actually knew that, they just assumed it. Whether or not the kids fought the allegations and refused the retest just to save their own asses is almost irrelevant, because they were simultaneously fighting an unfair system that had dissected their performance where the same had never been done before for the rich school. As the teacher says at one point later in the film when he questions his actions - not for the first time - he sees what they did as sort of an act of civil disobedience.
It is an interesting argument, and whether you buy it depends on how pessimistic your worldview is: in one scene lawyers investigating the incident lie to the kids in interrogation interviews trying to force confessions; an epilogue at the end notes that the superintendent who denounced the cheating on television was later that year arrested for tax fraud; among the public reactions shown are some of successful business people who admit that they got where they are by cheating because they had to to compete. Yet whether or not you buy the argument, it at least makes you look deeper at the problem than a movie where you know that the kids did not cheat. Can you still maintain outrage at the public assumption of guilt and the increased scrutiny of a poor, public school even though you as a viewer magically know that the students did in fact cheat?
Is cheating wrong? The movie does explore that, and seems to come from a sort of hard realistic point of view that the adult world, the business world, the real world is harsh and people do need to cheat to survive. You do have to cheat to prosper, and it sucks, but the rich school is doing its own form of accepted systematic cheating and that is just the way the world works, so you have to cheat to keep up. That is one angle the movie explores (in a pretty intelligent manner, I might add), but you do not have to accept cheating as okay in order to sympathize with these students and be drawn into this thought-provoking story. I for one am glad to see a movie present the gray part of life, the truly hard decisions, in an open ended manner, rather than beat the viewer over the head with an easy division of good guys and bad guys where you know who to root for.
At its heart, the movie is a wake up call to an ultra-consumerist society where people have become obsessed with their mundane jobs, their fashionable clothes, the Ikea furniture in their apartments, and no longer have a visceral connection with reality. It is a call not to be 'zombified' by the particular possession-centered culture we live in, to avoid this 'zombification' by subverting and altering that culture and its values. That subversion begins at the individual level. The protagonist loses his prized possessions, he quits his job, and he ends up starting a 'fight club' (underground bareknuckles boxing). While the violence of this latter might be jarring to some viewers, it is not the fight club that is essential here, but that it is a mechanism for the protagonist and others to snap themselves out of their disconnected state with reality by bringing it right up close, much like a near-death experience or terminal illness often causes a person to really appreciate their life (consider the start of the movie, where the protagonist floats through support groups for this sort of thing in an effort to reconnect with his dulled emotions).
As the individuals come to purge themselves of the consumerist impulses that had been ingrained so deeply in them, they then begin to move on to a larger goal of isomorphically snapping society as a whole out of this zombie state. They begin a campaign to subvert the ultra-capitalist status quo through a sort of 'ethical terrorism' (destroy symbols, not people) that is reminiscent of the culture jamming hippies of a couple decades ago. Soon their project expands and their attacks grow, now more akin to the 'ethical terrorism' of Alan Moore's V For Vendetta (in which the protagonist aims to destroy property and infrastructure and threaten those in power, but without harming innocents). It begins, however, to spin a little out of control.
The surprising twist at the end, rather than undermining the movie's main point, further strengthens and develops it. The protagonist had to take control of and responsibility for himself, finding a middle ground between mindlessly following consumerist society and mindlessly rebelling against everything. The message of the movie is not a call to destroy capitalism or rebel against society altogether. The message, like that of Thoreau in Walden, is a call to live deliberately and deeply, to suck all the marrow out of life - even if it means you have to come face to face with the blood and ugliness sometimes, rather than just fading away into a conformist culture where you are defined by the contents of your wallet and the car you drive and the clothes you wear.
The macho elements that many critics confuse for a sexist message are epiphenomenal to the main point. This is just one method, one mechanism, for breaking away and gaining a new visceral awareness and control of your life. While the 'fight club' and later examples portrayed in this movie do sometimes come off as violent and ultra-masculine (though one would note, e.g., that Bob - the crying guy with 'man-tits' - did not change his non-masculine appearance in the end, but came to accept himself), to focus on those superficial Hollywood elements is to miss the bigger picture. Fight Club shows us one man's journey to break free of the unconscious societal coercion to conform and consume, and teaches us the importance of taking conscious responsibility for our own lives in the process, rather than just mindlessly rebelling.
When Mima discovers the internet and checks out the mysterious site (which knows way too much about her personal life), strange events lead her to begin doubting herself and wondering who she really is. In fact, she soon starts seeing hallucinations, a mirror image of herself in pop idol uniform calling itself the "real Mima". Meanwhile, people on the set of Mima's movie begin to turn up dead, and the stalker fan is the obvious suspect.
To add another level to this masterfully told story, Perfect Blue utilizes fiction within fiction to beautifully exploit the reality/illusion theme. The role Mima takes is in a murder mystery called Double Bind, and the role soon seems to foreshadow the anime itself. The detective in the fictional movie raises the possibility that the deaths were committed by the witness, Mima's character, who is caught up in a horrible illusion that has possessed her to kill.
This self-consciously begins to raise the possibility in the viewer's mind (the viewer of Perfect Blue, that is) that Mima is in fact the one killing people on the set, as her illusion of the "real Mima" solidifies and her grip on reality breaks down. The film then plays off the reality/illusion theme to create a sense of doubt and build up a good mystery, the complex ending to which I won't give away.
All in all, Perfect Blue is an excellent exploration of psychological breakdown and the loss of identity that could lead a person to doubt who they are and who or what is real. It could never have been as effective in live action, as the fact that it was animated allowed for a believable and mysterious portrayal of the theme without giving things away to the viewer.
Cars and planes crash - their drivers suddenly not knowing how to drive or even what a car is - and fires start which no one knows how to put out. Economies collapse, infrastructure falls apart, entire cities cease to function. People brawl, pillage, rape and become savages in the search for diminishing food supplies. The world plunges into chaos from this mysterious wind.
The story follows a young man, Wataru, who is miraculously re-educated after the disaster as he travels across the remains of the country with a strange female companion, seeking to discover what has become of humanity without civilization. Will everyone devolve into brutal animals, or is there still hope for our species, suddenly robbed of language, history, culture and technology? And what caused this horrible change?
Some unnecessary action sequences were added to the movie to liven the pace and make it more exciting, but what is really great about the movie is the various interesting situations it looks at arising from the amnesia. It shows the inevitable violence as people form roving gangs for protection and food. Will it lead to a simple 'survival of the fittest' scenario, or will any strong people step up to defend the weak?
It also explores the rise of religion. Wataru and his companion discover a large camp of people where a man somehow figures out how to work a giant, high-tech, mobile crane-like construction vehicle, then wields its constructive limbs as murderous appendages to scare people into cowering before his unusual power. He makes himself out to be a priest of the 'god' which they see this mammoth death-machine as. Pretty soon they are performing sacrifices and worshipping the priest and his god. Is this inevitable or is there another way?
In the journey, the protagonist also comes across an experimental futuristic, automated town built by the government for a world expo that had been planned before the disaster. Its built-in defenses have kept the violence of fallen humanity out of its peaceful walls; it is self-powered, maintained by robotic servants and controlled by a giant pseudo-AI computer system. Since the people of the experimental town died after the disaster, the computer has kept up the appearance of normalcy by simulating human inhabitants and running through their lives in what amounts to an incredibly involved puppet show.
When Wataru and his companion come across this town and discover the illusion, the computer AI asks them to stay and live a 'normal human life' inside the town's walls. It offers them safety, long-life, robot servants and a blissful existence in what appears to be a utopia. All they have to do is live in the city and interact with the simulated people. "This is the only place left on Earth where humans can live as humans again," the computer argues. Is it worth staying, hiding away from the savagery of the world, if all it requires is letting the computer take away your memory of the outside world and convince you that the illusion is real?
A Wind Named Amnesia makes some thoughtful points about what truly motivates mankind and what would happen to us if our civilization were suddenly taken away. As Wataru travels across the countryside in search of the cause of the change, he also makes a philosophical journey exploring the human condition at its heart.