Spoiler-free review: Gamer is a film about the inhuman treatment of people of the social undesirables. It’s not a very poignant or salient commentary of our general disregard, but it’s a fun one that includes exaggerated sex and violence. With an anticlimactic ending, it’s hard to say what most people will think of the film as a whole. In short, though, it’s science fiction done with the right mentality.
It’s sometimes hard to tell that people are watching the same movie, given the subjective nature of the medium. I’ve read a few reviews of Gamer as well as merely gleamed the Metacritic page, and few reviewers are kind to the Crank team’s latest attempt at absurdist storytelling. On the other hand, I thought the movie was a fun, albeit far from brilliant, commentary on today’s culture.
The advertisements would have the viewer believe that the film is merely about a boy controlling Gerard Butler’s Kable in his various battles to the death. In other words, Death Race on foot. Or The Running Man. Or a number of other stories, really. However, that’s not the whole story.
Michael C. Hall as Ken Castle creates Metal Gear-esque nanomachines that enter the cerebral cortex and bond to the brain, turning the brain into a wireless receiver with a unique IP address that can only be influenced by one controller. That controller, within the sanctioned gaming environments, has full control over the nanoed individual and can essentially live a second life vicariously through a living alter. Slayer, the game in which Kable finds himself, is an alternative to the death sentence in this film – and it’s also not the only second life people can live. Slayer’s predecessor is a game called Society, in which players have no limits on what they can do – and the nanoed individuals are usually down on their luck types looking to find any means to support themselves or their habits.
Or, as Castle poignantly says during his interview early in the movie, some people join Society because they want to be freed from having to make their own decisions for a while.
The attempted commentary in the film isn’t merely about the games we play and the influence of the media, although I find it interesting that they chose to exaggerate Second Life and the plethora of first-person shooters on the market. The movie is about class and control. Slayer contains convicts, those we often find irredeemable for the sins they have committed against humanity. (Of course, Kable is falsely convicted…kind of.) When they’re locked up, we consider them expendable and of no use to society; so it’s more than appropriate to take control of them for our amusement and let them die indirectly by our hands. Indirectly because, let’s be frank, none of us want to admit direct responsibility for their dying. That would make us as bad as they are. Society, meanwhile, is made up of people who slipped through the cracks in the system – the down on their luck, the homeless, the addicts, Milo Ventimiglia, etc. Those who cannot be helped. In both cases, players dismiss the idea that controlling people is wrong because these people signed up for it. These people, literally, brought it upon themselves. The players aren’t responsible.
The lesson the Humanz group tries to preach is beyond the simple idea that the mind control is slavery. Playing the games and watching the Slayer pay-per-views perpetuates the idea that we aren’t responsible for what happens to these people. We’re not responsible for the inhumane treatment of convicts – guilty or innocent. We’re not responsible for the treatment of those who need help.
That’s the commentary I got out of the film. It wasn’t the usual, “This is a goresploitation film about the horrors of our media.” Hardly. In the end, it was media that saved the day. The media showed Ken Castle to be an evil bastard who wants to infect everyone with nanomachines and rule the world. The media showed the public Castle’s first two test subjects, Kable and his buddy, and how Kable was not in control of himself when he shot his friend directly in the head. And, hell, it was Kable’s controllers Simon who was able to take over Kable in the final battle to defeat Castle. The movie isn’t about the simultaneously embrace and rejection of our multimedia world. It’s about how myopic people can be so long as we have our own needs satisfied.
But there was still plenty of violence and sex, and I admit that probably obfuscates the subtext of the film to some high degree. However, it was completely necessary to the film. The games are supposedly be shown as deadly and exploitative, and film is a medium about showing rather than telling. Fortunately, the jarring cuts in the Slayer scenes made the violence easier to handle by simply not lingering on it, and the actual sex in Society was never shown on screen.
The most jarring thing about Gamer, truth be told, was its anticlimactic ending. An ending, mind you, that brought about a series of unanswerable questions. The most salient question is how Simon, the player linked to Kable, could have a stronger connection to Kable than Castle – who had his brain essentially turned into a wireless router and was standing right in front of him? Regardless, the big bad of the movie was defeated with a simple knife to the gut. The movie ends with Kable driving off with his family into a tunnel (known for causing signal drops in wireless equipment) before the words “Game Over” and “Insert Coin” are show on the screen. For a movie that was otherwise quite sensational, they found a way to make it end with a putter. It seemed appropriate, too. In the game worlds things are supposed to be over the top, but in the real world life can be ended in a completely mundane fashion. It doesn’t add to the commentary in any way, but it enhances the milieu.
Gamer is not quite the best movie I have ever seen, but it is far more worthwhile than most of the fodder that stumbles out into theatres. It’s one of those movies that makes it easy to miss the point, partially due to the art and partially due to mishandling. Still, it presents itself as an example of what science fiction is meant to be – discussion of the real world rife with exaggeration.
Bechdel Rule: Failure. Despite commentary on a world of inequality, I doubt I have to go into why this movie fails the rule.