I’d give a spoiler alert but the movie came out in 1995 so it isn’t warranted.
The film is a Kathryn Bigelow/James Cameron joint. Takes place on the days coming up to NYE 2000, which really did end up being Strange Days and not just because of all the people thinking the world was going to end. Humans had created an artificial Armageddon with two digit date systems. That it was averted and nothing major went wrong made it seem like a big to do about nothing, but the risk was real and nobody knew what was going to happen.
Aside from the tech logistics that the film builds upon (a memory capture device that you wear on your head that stores experience onto mini CDs), the film ages pretty well.
The premise is that in the near future, people peddle these memories like drugs. They’re illegal, addictive, and dangerous. It’s escapist material that lends itself to parasitic behaviors that humans are well-known for eliciting anytime pleasure centers are activated. Today, every single one of us has this device. We call it a cell phone. Or a mobile.
Someone captures an experience that gets them murdered. She witnesses two white LAPD cops killing a famous rapper during a traffic stop. The footage could lead to riots in the streets of L.A. In 1995 most Americans were still naive to the complexities of overfunded police departments, the racist and sadistic nature of police hiring systems, and the reasons riots start. We’d just gone through the Rodney King/O.J. Simpson part of history that was a replay of the late 1960’s. History gets so whitewashed that people didn’t draw connections and learn.
I say this in 2023 when more of us are hep to the situation but not enough and not in ways that change the power structure. If this movie is timely, it is because it is timeless in its theme of power leading to corruption. And power in America is always going to include race as long as people pretend it doesn’t.
Here are some things I noticed:
- Costume design/Art design: both excellent. You can see the reverberations in The Matrix and Fifth Element. Lots of iridescence and reflective materials. Plenty of color. Costume design was done by Ellen Mirojnick who has some of the boldest taste in the biz. Look up her credits. She’s iconic. Same with art director John Warnke. You watch this movie and wonder why it wasn’t a bigger deal. The answer is that James Cameron can’t write dialogue for shit. But…visually, this film can do no wrong.
- Y2K and the end of the world: so here’a the thing: I think as long as there has been consciousness, there have probably been people walking around wearing sandwich signs and ringing bells exclaiming the end is nigh. Look for the signs! The prophecies were right! In psychological terms, when people are depressed they have a future deficit. They invest way too much in the present at the expense of a long term future. And then when the end doesn’t come and the long term future becomes the near future and then the present, they’re fucked. We’re doing this right now. Everyone’s talking about how dangerous it is to bring a child into this world and how everything is going to end. Well, no shit everything is going to end. But mostly, everything is going to change. Either you get comfortable with the uncomfortable and go with the flow, or you die like the dinosaurs. But if you aren’t investing in the future because you’re banking on there not bein one, you kind of get what’s coming to you. There are people with bad intentions peddling this nihilism for profit. Don’t be a mark.
- Recording personal experience and addiction: what is there to say about a topic we all know too well and yet do little to curb? Kill your television. Kill your phone. Kill your computer. Does that change things? What are you going to do? Unplug the whole system? Whether we like it or not, technology keeps advancing and our brains are wired in certain ways such that we are all electric sheep. The 90’s was a time when we were enthusiastic about tech and our science fiction was thick with worries about being hardwired and what that would do. Now we know. Religion isn’t the opiate of the masses. Escapism is.Go outside and hang out with a tree today if you can. Connect with a stranger. I don’t have answers for you. If you’re going to consume social media, try and make it nutritious content and stop contributing to the dissemination of junk and despair.
- Angela Bassett: What is there to say about this powerhouse? We don’t deserve her OR her shoulders, which feature prominently in this film. I will say that sometimes she can overact and the right direction needs to be, “Give me 20% less, Angela.” Because otherwise, it just feels like Keke Palmer doing an impression of Angela Bassett. The cast in total is top notch. Juliette Lewis is great. Tom Sizemore (currently in hospice) is solid. I’m not sure Ralph Fiennes works as the antihero or if it’s a structural flaw of James Cameron, but he puts in the work. The one casting choice that’s flawed is Michael Wincott as the big baddie. Too English. Too cliche. Too aligned in my brain with his Robin Hood character.
- The Westin Bonaventure: an art director’s wet dream but what an awful building in real life. It features prominently on a lot of films. If you’ve ever visited this post-brutalist parking garage of a hotel, you’ll know that it feels dead inside. It’s pretty much only good as a set.
- Music: Also really strong. PJ Harvey! Trent Reznor in his NIN glory days. The hip hop is kinda sophomoric—but that’s what you get when a white person tries to approximate authentic Black culture without input. It’s very difficult in general to make music in a film that has to rise to the level of greatness to match a plot point. In this case, the rapper who is lynched is supposed to be great. For another example, see Bill and Ted Face The Music. The whole plot of the series revolves around them making music that saves the world and when the music finally plays, it’s underwhelming. Otherwise, yeah, I was in for the ride music wise.
In summary, whether you lived through the 90’s or you didn’t, this talkie’s worth watching.