The Big White / The Final Cut

This sounds like it should be a post from Marmot’s Stupid Foreigner Tricks section, but in fact it’s about movies.

I’ve been on a Robin Williams kick. Not the soft, mushy, albeit pretty-good films of yesteryear, but things with a distinctly different angle — bent, dark, or just plain weird.

The two films I’ve seen lately are titled The Big White and The Final Cut.

The Big White posterThe Big White is a kind of Alaskan Fargo, though calling it that is doing it a disservice. It’s more like an Alaskan portrait of insanities: the insanity of the insurance claims adjuster pursuing the fraudulent claimant; the insanity of his girlfriend staying with him through his insanity; the insanity of a woman with a disease she cannot understand; the insanity of her husband who is desperate for money; the insanity of love relationships; the insanity of wanting to be something you’re just simply not — like deep-down sweet guys wanting to be gangsters; the insanity of working in an office; the insanity of being in a family with a violent madman; the insanity of living in Alaska for any reason at all. And there’s a guy in a fridge, too. Seriously funny stuff.

And then there’s The Final Cut (trailer here), a sort of SF fairytale about memory. I can’t quite consider it “true” SF because it’s kind of set in the modern era — a time that looks a hell of a lot like the 1990s or early 21st century — except that there’s a very special set of technologies added, all dealing with memory. The Zoe implant is an organic technology which simply stores up a recording of all visual and auditory stimulus that a person experiences in his or her life. After the person’s death, it is all available for review; Robin Williams’ character is a “cutter”, a man who is paid to edit peoples’ lives for funereal viewings, a kind of postmortem reality TV with one important caveat — he’s paid to edit out the bad parts, the parts nobody wishes to remember. The violence, the sexual perversions, the twisted things that people do, they all disappear as he edits their lives into some form of usable, digestible narrative.

Final Cut posterSome of the narratives we see are absolutely stunning, such as the life story of a man told through reverse aging as we watch him brush his teeth in scene after scene, getting younger and younger. And some of the bits Williams’ character cuts are rather harrowing, too. This puts Williams’ character in a hell of a position vis a vis his job, since, as one character points out, he is paid to make saints out of sinners. There is a significant portion of the population who feel that their privacy is invaded by these implants, and of course they resist and protest them, interestingly not only because it’s an invasion of one’s own privacy to know others will someday see the full track of one’s life from one’s own eyes… but they also protest the impact of the Zoe implant on human interaction in general, an interesting observation on how this technology would spell the death of all true privacy, or on the assumption of it at least.

There are plot holes, though I don’t think they’re quite so insurmountable as some of the complainers on the film’s IMDB website would like to make out. If only more SF films had characters as beautifully crafted as the ones in this one, the implications of technologies as interestingly thought-out. And as for the compliaints about the technology itself — “Why no blinking? Why no jiggling when the person moves?” — this is all easily answered by suggesting that the implant uses the central nervous system’s own continuity functions to synthesize and linearize the content so that it’s free of the jiggling and the sudden darknesses of blinking. That, or the software minimizes the effects, or… there are plenty of possible answers. Some of the other plot holes are a little less forgivable, such as the clearly over-edited plotline involving Mira Sorvino’s character, and some of the overacting by minor characters, but I have to say that I think it’s a great first big-budget movie for the director/writer, Omar Naim, and that I’m sure, given a chance, he’ll do wonderful things in the future.

On a side note: I love the wooden hardware casing that Williams’ “guillotine”-computer has in The Final Cut; wooden casing, wooden frames on the monitors, and even an all-wooden keyboard. It’s plain lovely and I would love to have a PC with that kind of an exterior.

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