It has taken me 16 years to finally sit down and watch the 1995 cyberpunk film Strange Days and now I wish I hadn’t waited so long to do so. A trip into the cyber world that might have been and in many ways could still come to pass, seeing it eleven years after the story is set adds a different ambience to its science fiction themes.
It’s not that it detracts from the film at all, in fact Strange Days is a fantastic film that I really enjoyed. The themes are interesting, the performances are all quite strong and the pacing is good enough to keep you watching well past your bed time (like I did).
Strange Days was directed by Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow and written and produced by James Cameron. Like Bigelow’s earlier vampire film Near Dark, Strange Days did poorly at the box office but has apparently has gathered quite a cult following in subsequent years. I’m happy to hear this; Strange Days does deserve an audience and despite being set in a future whose date has come and gone. The film holds up surprisingly well.
The film is set in the last days of 1999 in a world that has tipped over to be all-out chaos, with the police state clashing with its citizens. We’re introduced to Lenny Nero who is played brilliantly by Ralph Fiennes who I must admit I don’t usually care for, though I find myself enjoying his performances more and more of late. Nero is a former cop who is now a dealer in black market SQUID (Superconducting Quantam Interface Device) recordings. These recordings are of experiences that people have whilst wearing the SQUID cap which records directly from the brain so that a viewer might have the same experience and sensations. They are essentially “real” virtual reality experiences.
The film unfolds as Nero comes across a “snuff” clip, something especially violent and intense, although this is a part of the SQUID trade with which he never deals. But having the clip in his possession embroils him events that could tear Los Angeles apart.
I think the most effective performances in Strange Days are provided by the characters who have to witness the blackjack recordings, certainly Fiennes‘ reactions show an impressive execution, reminiscent of Nicolas Cage’s in the film 8MM, in fact Strange Days could be read as a cyberpunk interpretation of the 8MM story.
I wonder how taken James Cameron was with the dystopian world that he envisioned as he would later revisit a similar place in the television series Dark Angel.
As with most science fiction there are the odd pieces of paraphernalia that date the film, old style televisions and mobile phones, meshed with futuristic technologies. But the movie never attempts the grand artistic vision of a film like Blade Runner. Of course it was only set four years into the future when it was first brought out so it’s probably appropriate that the SQUID tech is the only real futuristic aspect.
I wish I’d seen this film when it first came out because I know that I would have loved it and possibly even more so than I have seeing it now. Strange Days is a solid science fiction/cyberpunk/dystopian film with committed performances and talented direction. Not recommended for the more delicate of us as some of the sequences are quite disturbing and are as Nero might say it’s “a walk to the dark end of the street”.
Anyone else seen the underrated science fiction gem? What did you think?