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Mind over Matter or Mind over Machine?

June 25, 2010 10 comments

Welcome back. The post again is about movies and here I am going to discuss three seemingly very different movies but which according to me have a common thread. It is about those movies which go into a virtual world, access to which is through our own brain. And this access is by connecting the brain to a particular machine or system. The movies are THE MATRIX (1999), VANILLA SKY(2001) and ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004). All the three movies belong to different genres altogether. While the Matrix is a science fiction – action thriller, Vanilla Sky is a science fiction – psychological thriller. Now comes the most interesting combo. A science fiction – Romantic film. Seems unlikely? Well, Eternal….is indeed one of its kind.

The question arises – ‘Why this particular type of movies ?’. Being a Nolan fan, am waiting with bated breath for the release of ‘Inception’ featuring Leonardo. It is again about getting into the dreams and sharing dream space though I am not sure about the passage through mind – is it through a machine or is it telepathic? Thus I am tempted to do a comparison of these films. Also, two of the movies feature in Pratik’s suggested list as a reply on the last post.

Coming back, lets discuss the plotline of the three movies. Matrix – The movie is set in 1999 where the main protagonist Neo (Keanu Reeves) who is computer programmer is approached by some hackers who want him to understand ‘The matrix’. It turns out that matrix is a virtual system built by machines for controlling the humans and all that Neo is seeing is the virtual world. Outside the matrix, it is a post 2199 era where the bodies of all humans are being used by the machines for their body heat and bio electrical energy.  The hackers – Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) are people in the real world who help unplug Humans from the matrix. Morpheus believes that Neo is the ‘ONE’ (word play of NEO) who is capable of saving the humans from the matrix. Over the course of the movie and the two sequels, NEO helps save the world not before we see a lot of mind blowing action sequences. These scenes were first of their kind and are still being aped the world over in many action movies.

Vanilla Sky talks about David Aames (Tom Cruise), a rich spoilt brat who starts seeing Sofia Serrano (Penelope Cruz). His previous partner Julianna (Cameron Diaz) becomes jealous of them and crashes the car (carrying David and Julianna) on intent because of which David’s face is disfigured . Jullianna dies in the car crash. David loves Sofia but she does not seem to have the same feelings for him. Though eventually she comes to him and helps him recover and have a successful plastic surgery. But later on, he starts seeing weird things, starts seeing Julianna replacing Sofia sometimes. He is also stalked by a strange man who keeps giving him warnings. I won’t be revealing any further, go figure out the rest of the movie for yourselves…..

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind  – The story starts on a train where Joel Barish (Jim Carrey)  and Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) meet for the first time. They have an instant liking towards each other. We are slowly taken to flashback, where it is revealed that both were ex-lovers and Clementine had hired the services of Lacuna Inc to erase memories of Joel permanently. Joel is heartbroken and is left with no other choice but to erase his own memory. He goes to Lacuna Inc and applies for a selective memory removal – all memories of Clementine are to be removed permanently.  The employees of Lacuna connect a computer to Joel’s brain and start the procedure. The story then revolves around how once the process starts, Joel is reluctant to part with his memories mind and how he fights back to retain some of their sweet moments together.

All the three movies are complex to a great extent but some of them try and explain the logic to the viewer.  While in Matrix and Eternal ….., the concept of mind-machine interface is introduced early on in the movie, vanilla sky does a great job by holding back the explanation till the very end. It’s a different thing altogether that rather than letting the viewer decipher things himself, he is spoon-fed the whole logic in the last 5 minutes. The matrix is pretty simple to understand and Keanu’s hairstyle gives us a fair idea whether it’s the real world or virtual world. In Eternal, one is expected to be on his toes while watching because of the non-linear style of narration and the continuous movement between the real world and the world of memories.

Though Matrix might seem the oldest of the three, Vanilla sky is the remake of Spanish movie OPEN YOUR EYES(1997) (Abre los ojos) starring Penelope. Also movies like DARK CITY (1998) and THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR (1999), though not very popular had started exploring the virtual world.

Talking about success of the films, ‘The Matrix’ as everyone knows has achieved a cult status, has a high ranking of 26 in IMDB and has also won 4 Academy awards – for film editing, sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects. Eternal….has reached a high 59 rank in IMDB and film won the Academy award for Best original Screenplay. Kate Winslet got an Academy award nomination once again (She’s got 6 till now and she won at the 6th attempt for THE READER).Vanilla Sky has not got many good reviews (a number of negative reviews by top critics on rotten tomatoes) and it got an average IMDB ranking. But nevertheless, it was a commercial hit.

Few words on casting. None of the main actors were the original choice in The matrix. While many actors were approached before Keanu (one of them was Will Smith), Sean Connery  and Sandra Bullock were approached for the role of Morpheus and Trinity respectively. Vanilla Sky featured all top actors and in a sense was a sure hit. Penelope had just begun her career in English films and Cruise’s affair with Cruz ( J) helped generate a lot of publicity. And finally for Eternal…, both feature in my top 5 list of favourites. While Carrey did a stupendous job, performing in a serious role (not doing his rubber faced comedy, his forte), Kate Winslet stole the show completely. In fact, this role helped Carrey establish himself as an ‘actor’ in the real sense of the term for the first time and not just a comedian.

Personally, I liked Eternal Sunshine … the most. Only thing I did not like about the film is ‘oh so long’ title. I liked this movie the most probably because I am biased towards Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. On a serious note, it’s really difficult to bring science fiction into a romantic theme and the effort was totally worth it. The results are there for you to see.

PS: I had planned to write a post on RAAVAN. But now that the film has bombed, may it RIP.

The Pledge, the Turn and the …

June 17, 2010 9 comments

Dear all, I have finally decided to enter the world of blogging and here is my first blog post.  I thought of writing something related to movies and it only seems natural that one would like to keep talking about his /her favorite movie.  This post is not a review (because it’s too late in the day for a review) and of course we are not discussing the plot here. This is more of a tribute to one of the best movies ever made by one of the best directors of all times. The Prestige by Christopher Nolan

The movie got released way back in 2006. Two other magic based movies also got released the same year. The Illusionist and Scoop. Incidentally, both Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johansson were part of Scoop too. To tell the truth, the Prestige trailers didn’t impress me much and even though ‘Christopher Nolan’ did ring a bell (I had seen memento but not Batman Begins), the look and feel of the movie didn’t make for compulsive viewing. Also the excellent cinematography in the film was somehow not coming out in the trailers.  The movie got great reviews, but watching a movie on magicians……no way.

Eventually, I saw the movie in 2008 and man ….was I impressed.  When you adapt a film from a novel, there would be good ones and there would be poor ones and then there is the prestige.  Nolan this time assisted by his brother (Jonathan) has come out with a wonderful screenplay. His non linear style of narration took an entirely new level as the story itself was divided on the basis of the three acts – the pledge, the turn and the prestige.

A small note of caution: Spoilers Ahead.

The movie is about two magicians – Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Borden (Christian Bale) who initially were co-apprentices with another magician. But due to a freak accident in which Angier’s wife gets killed due to Borden’s carelessness, a lifelong battle for one-upmanship ensues.  The new trick brought on by Borden – ‘The transported man’ adds to the drama as Angier is too impressed by the trick and wants to do it himself.

For both the magicians, the PLEDGE – something ordinary were the diaries they were reading. The diaries presented themselves as a simple piece of information about the other magician. Then comes the TURN – the part where each magician comes to know that the other one is trying to talk to him and in a way has outwitted him. In Angier’s case, the fact that Borden had faked the password. In Borden’s case the fact that Angier knew the former would be convicted for the latter’s murder. The ordinary had suddenly become extraordinary and finally for the PRESTIGE – Angier was cloning himself all the while and Borden had a twin.

The movie also shows how an obsession for something would lead you to doom – how a person like Angier who would never get his hands dirty would finally do something as dreadful as that. The audience would have great difficulty in understanding who the protagonist is and who is the antagonist. The character of Cutter (Michael Caine) was instrumental in deciding this. All the while, he was standing by Angier. He felt that Angier had been deprived of his family life by Borden and he would help Angier win the battle. But the moment he came to know that Angier had forcefully taken away Borden’s daughter from him, he took custody of her and returned her to the rightful owner.

The movie also teaches a lesson or two on sacrifice. The way each of the twins was ready to sacrifice half of his life for the sake of the trick was phenomenal. Angier for his part had to sacrifice life itself. Angier also teaches a great lesson on humility. In the end he bluntly accepts that Borden and not he was the better magician. He in spite of being ‘Lord Caldlow’ was brave enough to lead a humble life to pursue his dream of being the greatest magician.

All in all, a great movie – some of the dialogues like ‘no one cares about the man in the box’ just stay with you. The Cinematography was great and the movie got a well deserved Academy award nomination too. Too bad it couldn’t win it. The casting also was really great. Though Bale is British, Jackman, an Australian has been preferred over scores of British actors, probably because of his prior experience in playing a Victorian British character (Kate & Leopold). Michael Caine in the role of Cutter set the tone of the film and time and again made the audience take or change sides.  I kind of totally left out the rivalry between Tesla and Newton which was a parallel track in the film. Maybe, some other time.

Well, keep reading my blog. ….and …..’ARE YOU WATCHING CLOSELY?’

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