Strange Days (1995)
October 27, 2014 11:33 AM - Subscribe

CRFC2: At the turn of the millennium the economy is in the dumps, gas is over three dollars a gallon and the police have become a militarized gang. Scraping the bottom of the barrel is Lenny Nero, who deals in "playbacks", virtual reality recordings that transport their audience to the lived experience of another person. When a woman out of Lenny's past comes to him for help he finds himself drawn into a sprawling conspiracy. TW: graphic depictions of sexual violence.

CRFC!? Constructed Reality Film Club, that is. This club is all about films dealing with computer simulations and other constructed realities. The club is bi-weekly, and we'll be meeting in two weeks on the 10th of November to talk about 2011's Source Code. So far we've also watched eXistenZ.

Watch it streaming on on Netflix and Amazon.

Here's the original NYT review.

This long-form piece goes over the movie's history, and talks about its initial lack of success compared to its lasting cult appeal.

A more critical look at the film's ending and it's most disturbing scene.

The original theatrical trailer.
posted by codacorolla (12 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This is a slightly different type of constructed reality movie. Instead of being about life inside of a simulation, it's about what effect simulations have on our real lives.

The dark, dark way that the technology is presented is interesting. In most SciFi, pornography seems to be the obvious extension of virtual reality. If you look at Oculus Rift demos it's pretty prominent in our own reality's nascent version of the technology too. One of the most telling scenes is the first, where Lenny is fine with the playback of the chinese restaurant robbery until the guy flatlines at the very end. Sticking up a business (and the accompanying adrenaline rush) is all fine and dandy, but once the main user dies Lenny gets offended.

The snuff films that lead Lenny on his breadcrumb trail are deeply horrible. The scene where Iris is killed is a grotesque bit of filmmaking. Apart from that, SQUIDS in the story are used by Lenny who relives the past like a heroin addict shoots junk, we have the voyeurism of the lawyer that Lenny tries to sell to, and we have first hand footage of a murder. Bigelow and Cameron don't show us applications of the tech that aren't very horrible (apart from, arguably, the playback that Lenny gives to the legless A/V guy at the club).

I guess there is a certain truth to that. How many games are about killing things and taking their possessions versus exploration, wonder, joy, etc?

The virtual reality in this narrative is much more like film than anything else. It's single perspective, Lenny gives tips to one of his actresses about moving her 'camera' effectively, and it's non-interactive. The Matrix is very much like a videogame, but playbacks are very much like a blockbuster (or more accurately like cheap reality TV).

As a detective story Strange Days a nod to the neo-noir of the seventies, which pushed back against the tough-guy detective who eventually solves the case. Like Nicholson's character in Chinatown or Elliot Gould's performance as Marlowe, Lenny is just sort of a sleazeball drifter who doesn't actually solve anything, ends up getting his ass kicked a lot. He's a pawn through most of the film until he realizes the horrible truth and is powerless to stop it.

At the end of the movie LA is still on the edge of collapse, the events of the movie have been shown to be more of a product of a malfunctioning society than any solvable grand conspiracy. Apart from Mace and Lenny getting together there's not much hope for things changing for anything but the worse. The two cop antagonists are neutralized, but the system that allowed them free reign to murder Jeriko is still firmly in place.

Having rewatched this, I think I agree with the more negative review at the bottom of the FPP. The movie seems to get lost in itself with the twist of Max being the killer. It cheapens the graphic scenes, and doesn't give a very satisfying resolution to a very long, plot-heavy movie. However, the depiction of technology, and the realistic examination of cyberpunk, made it worth my while, even if the plot left me unsatisfied.

Also, Mace is a great action hero. The dynamic between her and Lenny reminded me very much of Case and Molly in Neuromancer.
posted by codacorolla at 12:02 PM on October 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

gas is over three dollars a gallon

Hilarious.This film opened the weekend I moved to Los Angeles (10/20/95) and because much from that time is permanently burned into my memory, I happen to remember we were paying 99 cents/gallon. I haven't watched the film since then, but in my head, it's Hollywood's answer to Until the End of the World.
posted by roger ackroyd at 1:15 PM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

so weirdly prescient in many ways, and it FEELS like those short stories and stuff written in say 1985 talking about the future, that same vibe of doom of apocalyptic strangeness where anything is possible but all the possibilities SUCK.
posted by The Whelk at 9:06 PM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

This has always been a favorite of mine, and it's been on my mind lately because I happened to read two recent novels in a row, one with some extremely similar themes, and one with some somewhat similar themes - Tomorrow and Tomorrow, by Thomas Sweterlitsch, and Lock In, by John Scalzi.
posted by ftm at 7:44 AM on October 28, 2014

This was my first viewing of Strange Days. I have a lot of mixed feelings about it. I came into the first half-hour really enjoying things: The first-person-but-not-shaky-cam, the grungy Fifth Element-meets-Spike Lee vibe, Ralph Fiennes being very charming. It seems like a close cousin to Verhoeven or Cronenburg (and not just because of ExistenZ). On the other hand, the snuff scenes came out of left field and were really drawn out, and put a damper on my fun.

Being an LA resident always enhances the viewing experience, as soon as I saw them under the 6th Street Viaduct, I knew someone was going to die. Everything films death scenes there, even on the google street view there's some low-budget thing being shot with someone lying dead.

Angela Bassett is them main thing going for the movie in the final stretch, she's really awesome, and is basically the only woman in this that isn't raped or murdered or a pawn. It almost feels like she's supposed to be the main character in this but then they rewrote it to "ease us in" with a male lead. Anyways, BADASS.

Is this the non-porn movie with the most O-faces in it? They really should make those SQUID viewers cover your face or something.
posted by JauntyFedora at 10:28 AM on October 28, 2014

I love this movie but for one thing: I always wanted it to go abruptly to black right at the end of the new year countdown, rather than end with the big cinematic kiss. The kiss just seemed too pat for a movie like that. 'Course, I was good and pissed about the love-conquers-all end of The Matrix, too, so it's probably just me.
posted by dlugoczaj at 10:45 AM on October 28, 2014

I love this movie but for one thing: I always wanted it to go abruptly to black right at the end of the new year countdown, rather than end with the big cinematic kiss.

I agree. Apart from the kiss, there's also all of the shots of happy people celebrating, which contrasts against the constantly running riot that's in the background of almost any outdoor travel scene in the movie. I'm not sure if it's supposed to be ironic, but the ending seems to suggest that solving the mystery actually changes anything, but that's not supported by what happens in the movie. It's a real let-down, and I think ambiguity would be better than what we get.
posted by codacorolla at 1:00 PM on October 28, 2014

I'm one of the 17 people who saw this in theaters when it came out - mainly because I've long admired Kathryn Bigelow who at that point had done Near Dark and Point Break (and I even sort of liked Blue Steel).

I adore this movie, but it was never perfect, and gets less so the farther the millennium recedes into the past. Mainly I think it worked because there was so much going on that it could afford to have an entire plotline collapse and that was okay because there were doubly redundant backup plots. So I love it for the parts that work and kind of slide past the parts that don't.

It was my first exposure to Ralph Fiennes, and Lenny is still the image that comes to mind for me when you mention him. The character just got branded onto the actor forever for me. (Same thing with Clive Owen in Croupier. No matter what he's in now, I expect him to be wearing a tuxedo.)
posted by Naberius at 7:44 AM on October 29, 2014

I remember being really excited about this movie and then just hating it. It felt like snuff porn and I resented that I was watching it. It felt like it had nothing to say and it's MO was basically to show porny shots of torture. Angela Basset was beautiful in it but that's just not enough.
posted by latkes at 8:42 AM on October 30, 2014

Hey all, thanks to everyone for joining the discussion so far. I've been having a great time. As a reminder, the movie for 11/10 is going to be Source Code.

I'm also considering moving this to weekly, since there's a lot of cool stuff to watch, and the threads have been doing well so far. Any opinions on that?
posted by codacorolla at 11:28 AM on November 6, 2014

Now streaming on HBO Max!
posted by guiseroom at 3:30 AM on January 2, 2023

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