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Thursday
Jun232011

The Final Cut

Even the staunchest of anarchists and the most wretched of non-believers will have to admit that we base our present actions on what we have gained from the past.  Living in the here and now results in the puerile imbecility so commonly incident to teenagers and so disturbingly commonplace among those who wish to have no higher authority than themselves (they know who they are).  These are the same people who will advocate lying for convenience and occasionally for sport; the same people who love talking about money and are hopelessly mainstream in putting it to any use; the same people who cannot be bothered to read or write anything of any value, because such activity does not befit a modern man of material riches.  Apart from a few tales of lechery and oneupmanship, the past to these people is a series of excuses, a comedy of errors that can be vanquished by oblivion.  Those who live in the past, they chirp, cannot possibly be ready for the future.  That is to say, not the future as such but an endless chain of presence, a million minutes of thinking of nothing except their needs and desires without so much as a fang mark of remorse on their exfoliated skin.  A mindless existence endangered by the premise of this engaging film.

The conceit is one of the most original in years: for the last half-century or so, technology has been able to imbed a microphoned camera of lifelong capacity in the human brain.  What it sees, asleep or waking, it records, without allowing for omission or editing.  These devices are produced by Eye Tech, which seems to be a less nefarious corporation than most companies of its type, and called Zoe implants (in all likelihood Greek for "life," not an allusion to the lives and works of a couple of American novelists).  Despite that recipients are implanted early enough to retain their first wombless moments, it has been standard practice on the part of the parents, says an infomercial on the subject, to apprise their child when he reaches his mid-twenties.  The ethical quandary is a very old and a very clear one: if everything I see and say aloud is taped, should I alter my behavior and words accordingly?  A theologian may aver that herein lies the epitome of conscience, but we needn't be students of religion to understand the implications.  A better question is whether such an instrument of surveillance (or, to be more modern, sousveillance) engenders the spread of truth or dissimulation.  A matter that secretly gnaws at the film's mild-mannered protagonist, Alan Hakman (Robin Williams).

Hakman is a "cutter" and appropriately named, although a better job description might be "mnemonic undertaker."  His work involves the review of a deceased person's Zoe implant so as to prepare the gloriously yclept "Rememory," a two-hour highlight reel to be screened at the funeral.  This concept is so brilliant as a cinematic convention that one overlooks, if only momentarily, the logistical nightmare that not only reviewing but also editing fifty to eighty years of footage would entail.  I'm not sure whether the difficulty is addressed at all.  At one point we behold Hakman seated before his computer patch, affectionately termed the "Guillotine," like some demented maestro commanding all his minions at once, and then see a good four dozen images in simultaneous playback.  We know that the memories are sorted by category – emotion, first experiences, career, and so forth, along with some baser rubrics, which imbues someone's "rememory" with the balance it often lacked in life – yet we are never given a true idea of how long Hakman typically needs to condense an existence into a viable movie.  This lacuna projects the technology well past our imagination, tethering it nebulously to the concept of a "science fiction parable," a label that is redundant for reasons we will not belabor.  But the tale has much less to do with scientific advancement than with morality, as exemplified by Hakman's truck with Delila (Mira Sorvino) and Fletcher (Jim Caviezel).

Beautiful and recently bereft of her boyfriend, Delila enters Hakman's world as a passing fling that he is inexplicably able to impress (getting and maintaining male attention does not seem to be one of her problems).  The back story for their relationship is simple and predictable yet true to the temptations the technology of the Zoe implant provides – and I will leave the matter right there.  Fletcher's participation in our tale is less obvious, as it involves the Luddite protests against the implant, the ethical tangle of placing such machines in the brains of infants without their knowledge, and the somewhat unfortunate need to contrast the homely, middle-aged Williams with a young and studly antagonist.  Nevertheless, Caviezel and Williams develop an odd rapport reminiscent of a protégé and an old master who will never see eye-to-eye again, and perhaps, it is suggested, never quite won each other's full confidence.  In one fantastic scene the two men meet clandestinely in a public place, sitting back-to-back on each side of a metal grate, but quickly reveal their relationship to all but the most obtuse of passers-by.  One also wonders how Fletcher came by half a million dollars to purchase the Zoe tape of one person in particular, a secret that, like so many others, is revealed only in increments. 

The most important factor may well come, however, in the opening vignette from Hakman's childhood, a vignette that, he peremptorily insists, justifies his trade as well as his self-nomination as a latter-day "sin-eater."  To the director's great credit this piece of the puzzle never comes off as contrived or frivolous; in fact, it is precisely this type of incident that can haunt a person throughout a lifetime.  That said, the only flaw in this very original film is the fact that, given its layers and glue, the ending does not so much screech to a halt as lean against the battlements it has erected.  A lesser work might have devolved into battle scenes, explosions, and some preposterous conspiracy (we have, alas, all gorged ourselves on Hollywood's favorite recipes), but here we get nothing of the kind.  No blood, no new world order, no omnipresent and omnipotent private firm eliminating its detractors with the stealth usually reserved for paramilitary groups.  The premise is driven full speed to its logical conclusion and then deposited at exactly the spot detailed in its itinerary.  Could there or should there have been a detour?  And no, a visit to the tattoo parlor doesn't count.

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