The 1983 sci-fi mindbender Brainstorm is perhaps most notable for being the final film starring Natalie Wood. Wood died under mysterious circumstances during the production of the film. Her death probably added to the mystique of this creepy, surreal film about transferring a person's experiences into the brain of another. It's an interesting premise, with a complicated set of moral implications. Unfortunately, Brainstorm, while full of great ideas, falls flat due to poor storytelling.
A group of scientists led by Lillian Reynolds (Louise Fletcher) and Michael Brace (Christopher Walken) invent a device that allows one person to see, hear, and feel what another person is experiencing. From the sensation of jumping out of an airplane to the taste of a hot fudge sundae, it can all be felt as if the wearer of the device were doing it themselves. Reynolds and Brace have no aspirations of contributing to the scientific community with their research. They’re out to make money. They hire a designer to make a sleek headset from what was an unwieldy helmet of wires and electrodes. They present it to a group of investors, who eagerly jump at the chance to mass-market the device.
There are a couple of obvious attractions to such an invention. One of them is virtual sex, where a device like this would surely make most of its money. The film however, barely touches on the idea. Of course, the other attraction is virtual spying—spying being, of course, a specialty of the government. Much to Reynolds and Brace's dismay, the government wants a piece of the action. It's all very interesting, but it plays out in the most boring way possible. There are lots of discussions and arguments that rarely lead to anything remotely exciting. While everyone is bickering, Brace discovers even deeper potential in the device.
As it turns out, this thing can also record memories. The memories play out in a perfect visual representation, as if the person was watching a movie of their life. Sometimes they’re even watching themselves, like an out-of-body experience (which really makes no sense even in the context of the film). Brace discovers he can use the recorded memories to show his estranged wife (Wood) that they really did love each other at one time. The potential of using the device for marriage counseling is cast aside when Brace becomes obsessed with the idea of watching the recorded mental images of someone else’s death. He is convinced he can discover the secrets of life if he can get his hand on a recording made while the device-wearer died.