The True Detective Finale [SPOILERS]

[WARNING: This is not a show you want spoiled for you.]

Easily the hottest new television show this season is HBO’s True Detective. Social media sites have been crackling with theories, projections, analyses, breakdowns, synopses, praise, criticism, and so forth, and speculation on season two is in full swing as we speak.

The build up to the final episode, fueled by social media, was intense and exciting, and the scope and depth of the show made it impossible to forecast what direction the finale would take. Now that it has has come and gone, I find myself feeling a bit deflated. All that hype sweetens the anticipation but contributes to disappointment later; with so much chatter and speculation, it’s easy to feel let down, to be critical and cynical.

True Detective was easily the best show I’ve seen this year. From the start, the show was an example of visual storytelling at its finest. McConaughey and Harrelson gave truly impressive performances, the writing and directing were riveting, the cinematography was beautiful, and the show seemed to open into the mysterious worlds of psychosis and even the supernatural. This stuff is right in my wheelhouse.

The build up to the finale was intense. There were so many questions that needed answers: Who or what is the green-eared spaghetti monster? Has Cohle lost it completely? Has Hart made up his might to end Cohle? With such a network of horror out there in the Bayou, can Hart and Cohle even make a difference?

I thought the finale was great. The bad guy was thoroughly twisted, the chase and showdown made my heart thump in my ears, the denouement was touching and solidified McConaughey as the best performance of the year (as if anyone had any doubt), the detective work was engaging, and the dialogue was sharp and memorable.

So why do I feel let down? It might just be because it’s over (a 2-hour special might have been nice), or it might be because the wild twists I imagined would happen might have been more mind-blowing. Should they have let the bottom drop out and reached into the supernatural abyss of Chtulu? To be sure, a CGI demon would have been stupid, would have short-circuited the whole series. Yet somehow Cohle’s “vortex of chaos” hallucination worked perfectly.

Sure, I would have loved to learn more about the occult ethos, sure I would have loved it if the ending involved Maggie, the daughter, or that cellphone-selling rocket that Marty…did things to. Sure I would have been okay with one or both of the main characters dying, and of course I would have loved some sort of bizarre black magic showdown, but what would I be willing to trade away from the finale as shot to accommodate these speculations?

A dip into the supernatural would have been a mistake. True Detective is not Twin Peaks. The latter wove the supernatural or dream elements into the fabric of the show from the start, which allowed them to knock the roof off in the mind-blowing finale. But True Detective was always about real people chasing real people who may or may not be insane.

A wider focus on the evil underground network of child abusers might have meant a less penetrating look into our main characters. To delve into the occult rituals and sacrifices might have been delicious, but those details would never be the focus in a police investigation. There is only so much narrative, and I think Nic Pizzolatto made strong decisions throughout.

The one decision I immediately questioned—something that usually rubs me the wrong way in detective shows—is that the final episode showed us Errol’s world, even showed us three or four of his personalities without any detective work. The infraction here being that, in a detective show, the audience should learn about the bad guy at the same pace as the detectives. But if Pizzolatto had shown only what the detectives saw, the finale would have been 45 minutes of detective work and then a five minutes showdown. The audience wouldn’t have tasted Errol’s mania, which drives the anticipation through that beautiful Heart Of Darkness chase scene.

We can all nitpick from our couches, but here’s the thing: I don’t know what would have made True Detective better. What are your opinions?

True Detective

HBO’s new drama True Detective has a lot going for it, and it feels strangely familiar at times. It is a gritty procedural with complex characters and gratuitous nudity, nothing new for the network, but there is an edgy new darkness brooding around all the things that make this familiar as a cop show.

Like the dark woods surrounding Twin Peaks or the irrepressible Seattle drizzle in The Killing, the landscape of True Detective is haunted with secrets. From a seedy truck stop teeming with hookers to a grimy trailer park, also teeming with hookers, to a burned out church on a desolate farm with no hookers but a frightening smudge drawing and a portentous flock of birds, episode two (“Seeing Things”) smothered us with the underbelly of Louisiana.

Like all truly great cop shows, when we explore the territory we really explore the characters. Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey have dug right in from the start as two deeply conflicted detectives with opposing philosophies. McConaughey’s Rust Cohle seems like a brilliant, existential isolate while we get the sense that Harrelson’s Martin Hart would be lost without his family, even if he doesn’t act like it.

We start with an occult murder and our leading man has lingering drug issues from his time as an undercover narc. I expect to explore some exciting, strange psychological territory here. We don’t need to believe in black magic; it’s enough that someone does. That is scary. And I get the sense Cohle knows a thing or two about this type of behavior already.

Only two episodes in and I already feel like Sunday is too far away.

Going Abroad

I recently had to make a tough decision about a very dear item. My Twin Peaks VHS box-set had to go. There is no way I could just throw it out; this is the series that started my high school obsession. It blew my mind and made me realize I wanted to make movies. It also introduced me to worlds I never knew existed.

Fortunately I’ve found the box-set a good home, and I hope the recipient will get from it even a fraction of what I did. I have a lot of history with those tapes. They were my first introduction to the work of David Lynch, who quickly ousted Stanley Kubrick as my favorite director. I think Kubrick is probably the greatest that ever lived, but there’s something mysterious about Lynch that I can’t resist.

I think it was in the biography Lynch on Lynch where he mentioned that Federico Fellini was one of his major influences. The first Fellini movie I watched was . I find it hard to talk about  because it hit me on such a personal level, but suffice it to say that I think it’s one of the most beautiful films ever made. So I lost myself in the Italian auteur’s catalog. This was a breakthrough for me because I don’t believe I had ever seen a foreign film before 8½, or if I had, it wasn’t memorable.

Now I had a taste for it. I was interested to see movies from other cultures, movies from filmmakers who had a different way of life. I quickly realized that the Hollywood system seemed content within a certain set of values, a homogenous morality and thin, nearly meaningless output. So I unconsciously decided to become a film snob. Fortunately, my brother Jay had a copy of Agurre: The Wrath of God.

That stunning, visceral, hallucinatory take on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (the same source material as Apocalypse Now) made me giddy, and Aguirre is still one of my favorites. German master Werner Herzog became my next guru. He is one of the most exciting and prolific filmmakers I know of, even to this day, and the book Herzog on Herzog made me laugh my ass off. His genius is unique.

From Germany my tastes headed north, to Denmark, when Lars von Trier hypnotized me with The Element of Crime. I really did not connect with all of von Trier’s movies, but he is a magician when he hits, and his recent return to form has me considering, maybe masochistically, of going to see his new film Nymphomaniac.

Near that time my brother showed me Alphaville by Jean Luc Godard. It was funny, it was noir, it was smart, and it was beautiful. Plus, it had Anna Karina. I balanced Godard’s panache with the solemnity of Ingmar Bergman in Sweden. While Masculin Feminin had me giggling, Scenes From A Marriage left me gutted.

But when I caught wind of Andrei Tarkovsky, I started a pilgrimage to Russia starting with the sci-fi classic Solaris. It could easily be argued that Tarkovsky films are boring. He even joked about it himself. But the word boring tends to lose all meaning for me when I get wrapped up in a journey of Tarkovsky’s. Even the bizarre, didactic Stalkera 2 hour, 40 minute sci-fi allegory about transcendence–ranks as one of my favorite films.

Just like that, I had made it from a small logging town in Washington state all the way across Europe. It’s rare that we can trace the cause of our decisions in such clear ways, but I have no doubt that if it wasn’t for that Twin Peaks VHS box-set, I wouldn’t have seen so much of Europe so fast. And now it’s time to move on. After all, the Twin Peaks Blu-ray box-set comes out this year.

Breaking Bad, Raising The Stakes On TV

Everybody and their brother will blog about Breaking Bad this week, so I don’t need to chime in on that…so…what else are we going to talk about? Please. Some say we’re in a new Golden Age of television. Some say Breaking Bad is one of the best series of all time. Both ring true to my ear. There will be some spoilers here, in red.

So what made Breaking Bad so great? Was it the Nietzschean “will to power”, expressed in an honest way for the first time on television? Was it the lethally hip admixture of high chemistry and street drugs? Was it the character of Walter White? Jesse? Was it the magnetic acting? I could argue all these points, and strongly, but I think the setting in which all these facets found their gleam is the vision and execution of creator Vince Gilligan.

And execute he did. One of the strongest elements of Breaking Bad is its narrative economy. The storytelling is very straightforward, 96% pure, and doesn’t waste a lot of our time with non-essentials. Walt’s journey reaches very clear milestones regularly throughout the show, and the clarity of his journey make the simplistic narrative a deeply affecting one.

Walt’s journey, the central story, demonstrates perfectly this fundamental of storytelling: in a narrative, the stakes must rise toward a climax. Breaking Bad might be one of the best examples of how to raise the stakes. The magic of the show is that while the stakes went up continually and intensely, the story never felt like it was reaching beyond itself. Each new plateau of was handled realistically (at least in the psychology of the characters), and only until it was time to raise the stakes again. I have never seen a show escalate its dramatic action so consistently and effectively before now.

So many people died in the show. But think about Walt’s involvement with these deaths and the moral implications of each: in season one he kills someone in self-defense. Then he kills someone when there is no other safe option, when letting the person go would endanger his family (and think about how much he struggled with this conflict). Eventually we see him stand by and watch a girl die. He could have saved her life, but he lets her die because she has become inconvenient to him. Through coincidence, his negligence causes the death of an entire passenger plane full of people.

But still Walt remained reticent to take a life. We saw him bowl over a couple hood rats with his Aztec in order to save Jesse’s life (in one of the most intense television episodes I’ve ever seen). And on and on, Walt slowly lowers his criteria to the point where he orders the slaughter of a dozen prisoners in order to sever ties and stay clean.

The fact that his moral barriers were struck down so methodically makes me jealous of Vince Gilligan and all the people who got to work on Breaking Bad. What an impressive feat to sustain over 5 seasons without letting up or losing steam.

The storytelling of Breaking Bad might not be quite as nuanced as other dramas like Mad Men or The Wire, but its simplicity makes it more effective in many ways. Some of the “higher-brow” shows require slower action, more time for reflection and character development. But Breaking Bad kicks into high gear early on and doesn’t let up. And while it’s efficiently telling its story, highbrow concepts (such as the Nietzschean “will to power,” grey-scale ethics, etc.) present themselves as a digestif to the intense action.

And unlike many of those other shows, Breaking Bad sought to tell a finite story about one person with a beginning, middle, and end. The series closer Sunday night was a great piece of drama and the developments in it made perfect sense, whereas many other shows leave me without a strong sense of closure.

If the last episode didn’t seem quite as mind-blowing as you had hoped, consider the beautiful realm of possibilities created by the writers during the lead up to the finale. In the heat of the previous season, we could have cast our minds forward to any number of fantastic climaxes. It’s only because those potentialities were reduced to an actuality that the final episode might have left people a bit lukewarm. That, and the somewhat telegraphed convenience with which Walt’s final plan came together (to borrow a phrase from The A-Team).

The show ended as I hoped it would, without abandoning Walt completely to an immoral demise, but redeeming him just enough (through Jesse) so that people wouldn’t hunt down and kill Vince Gilligan. Way to watch your back Vince. He originally intended to kill Jesse.

For those 10.3 million of us who watched the finale together, Breaking Bad truly gave us one of those “shared moments” of TV legend. I’m naturally disappointed there is no more to look forward to, but I prefer a firm ending to a diluted story. Breaking Bad was somehow succinct in its 60+ hours, and I look forward to watching it again.

Weekly Insanity

Good sitcom characters are likeably insane. The television industry is very careful with its money, preferring long-running franchises to succinct, original storytelling. This means that sitcoms are populated with characters who generally will not change week to week. We want to count on Diane Chambers to act intellectual, Michael Scott to be inappropriate, Sheldon Cooper to be a difficult genius, and these characters have to get into the same kinds of problems every week.

I’m using Einstein’s definition of insanity here – each week these characters do the same things but expect different results. Characters are usually coloured with at least one type of mania. Their obsessions and blind spots serve as the engine of their adventures. Real personal growth in any of these characters alters the dramatic dynamic of the show, which is why if there are any major character changes, they usually happen after the first season (often redundant characters are written out and where the dynamism is weak new ones are written in or roles shift).

In Modern Family, for example, Cam and Mitchell each are foils. Cam is full of flair and fabulousness while Mitchell is the neurotic, nervous type. Each week they are afraid of getting caught being who they are and they usually lie to avoid awkward situations. These awkward situations each week resolve in reconciliation and life goes on as usual. But each week they make the same mistakes. They never learn, never become less fabulous or nervous, things don’t get better or worse for them.

Because television needs to generate stories dependably, fictional characters need their blind spots. A conscientious character would stop getting into trouble while a slightly insane character provides more dramatic latitude, more comedic opportunity and a more consistent viewing experience.

If these characters were friends of ours we would be frustrated they keep getting into the same trouble. Unless, of course, we were stuck in a complimentary pattern of enabling.

While sitcom characters are generally unrealistic. Of course there are plenty of people in the world who do make the same mistakes every week. None of us fix all our mistakes, but some people are particularly bad. Enter reality television.

The reason shows like Jersey Shore are compelling is that they actually do feature insane people who seem to learn nothing from their experiences. They repeat mistakes ad nauseum. In fact, these people don’t seem to notice their mistakes at all. If every week you get drunk and get into a fight, I must assume it is because you want to get drunk and fight. In which case I don’t like you.

The challenge for sitcoms is to make characters insane while remaining likeable. Jack Donaughy, super-Republican of 30 Rock, pursued corporate and social domination every week but remained hilarious. By contrast Leslie Knope, political nerd of Parks and Recreation, ran out of steam after the first season and has grown consistently more erratic to keep us entertained.

Every week we can count on Sterling Archer (Archer) to get the job done while bagging girls and killing spies, and because the character is a fresh iteration of an old archetype, we don’t get bored. Reagan Brinkley from Up All Night started as an ambitious TV producer, and when she decided to stay home with her child the show fell apart, both creator Emily Spivey and star Christina Applegate left, and the show now hangs in limbo.

The insanity is just a matter of personal taste. Give me someone with my own brand of insanity and I’ll watch. If the insanity mirrors some of the mania I have in my own life, it will resonate and I’ll tune in to vicariously experience my own passions and paranoia play out every week.

Even better is to watch shows with dynamic and nuanced characters. Have you seen Breaking Bad yet?

Walking With Fire

Early in university I had a pretty nasty bout of insomnia. After a few weeks I really started to notice the bizarre mood swings that result from no sleep. In the course of one hour I could laugh hysterically at the most unfunny things, then almost weep because my coffee was cold. At night I couldn’t shut off my thoughts, and I couldn’t ignore them enough to fall asleep. My brain jumped from topic to topic without any focus, like flicking through channels on the television. By morning, after five or six hours of this without any break, I’d get up and go to school. It wasn’t long before my life felt like a hallucination. It wasn’t as awesome as it sounds.

I had a good friend who wasn’t sleeping either, and we both compounded the issue by overdrinking coffee. We decided to watch all of Twin Peaks consecutively. This includes a 1.5-hour pilot episode, twenty-nine episodes and the feature film that is the crown jewel of the experience, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. It took us about thirty-five hours. Even though sleep wasn’t a real option for either of us, the quality of consciousness during and after a marathon like that is particularly strange. We must have drank three pots of coffee, eaten two pies (one cherry, one apple), and snacked on junk food between pies, so by the time we were finished our brain chemistry was in shambles.

We finished around three or four in the morning and I walked the short distance home to clear my head. But I had been about a week without a night of sleep and had just been on the multidimensional roller coaster ride of Twin Peaks, plus I was full of caffeine and sugar, so my head was anything but clear. The walk home was like wading through neon porridge.

I noticed a bright, warm glow coming from down my street. Closer inspection revealed that the front porch of my house was blazing with fire, flames about five feet tall. I ran up the porch, reached over the fire to ring the doorbell hoping to wake someone up. I tried to stamp out the flames before they caught the awning on fire.

It was a big, blocky, wooden planter in the shape of a swan that burned. The thing used to hold plants. The thing was put together with nails.

My foot came right down on a nail that drove through the sole of my shoe into the ball of my foot. When I lifted my foot there was a smoldering piece of wood attached to it. I backed down the porch on one foot, hands on the railings, as my mom opened the front door and realized what was going on. She got water while I pulled off my shoe, prying the nail out of my foot at a painful angle.

A pitcher of water put out the blackened swan. The fire was under control.

Inside I pulled off my sock and was surprised to find no blood. The nail had been hot enough to cauterize the opening so my foot was swelling up with blood. With an old pair of fingernail scissors I punctured the skin and blood shot out with such a force that it painted a thin red line on the far wall, like a big squirt from a ketchup bottle. I laughed my ass off.

An hour later I was in a deep sleep.

“Is this real Ben? Or is it some strange and twisted dream?” - Jerry Horne

Unsatisfying Mysteries

When I was young I used to enjoy the show Unsolved Mysteries, which I just realized is a redundant title. There was something alluring about watching adults like Robert Stack investigate strange situations and come up with no answer. Robert Stack spoke with authority, so if he couldn’t figure it out, there must be something magical at work.

The other night I came across a similar show. I can’t remember the name of it. I’m glad my brain knew to forget. In this show an authoritative narrator told us about mysterious science experiments, and the worst actors ever helped to dramatize these unsolved mysteries.

The show reenacted a man attempting to measure the weight of a soul by measuring patients as they died. He placed the unfortunate “consumptive” patients on a scale and had to wait out their final moments, which, judging from the look on the actor’s face, took a really long time. But behold, the body did lose some of its mass. Whether this account is accurate or not is probably not worth worrying about.

This became the “21 grams” legend that inspired a movie I haven’t seen. That this landmark of scientific inquiry faded into obscurity isn’t surprising; it’s built on a slush pile of ambiguous principles. The operational assumption that every “thing” in the universe has mass is wrong; light exists but has no measurable mass. This blog exists but has no mass. Not yet…

But my favorite piece of illogic is the assumption that if a dying body loses weight, the soul must have escaped. It’s interesting that this “scientist” thinks the soul is something you can hold in your hand, like an overripe eggplant. At no point does he attempt to define the soul. When you break it down, the implication made by his experiment is this: “The soul is something that has weight and leaves upon death.” Defined mathematically: Weight Loss = Soul Leaving. It’s nonsense.

These types of shows, while disguised as a rational investigation, never give rational answers. Every case covered in this episode ended with a question, i.e. “Did Dr. Whatsisname prove the existence of the soul?”

No. No he obviously didn’t.

After sleeping on it, I realized something very obvious. These shows aren’t aimed at the rational crowd. They are aimed for people looking for a mystery. And here is where I’m torn, because I have a hunch there is psychological worth in cultivating mystery and awe in the unknown. Big questions are important, like what am I? Where did we come from? Where did they find these actors? Why did nobody watch the edited footage? Why did nobody edit the actors out?

Fortunately there are people in the world who take the mysteries of the human condition seriously. Werner Herzog’s Into The Abyss is a recent documentary exploring murder and the death penalty. As usual, Herzog asks questions that matter because they lead us into the deep realities of his subjects. The mystery in question is how and why a person or a state commits murder.

I definitely didn’t laugh as much watching Into The Abyss as I did watching that other show. So they both have their pros and cons, I suppose. Maybe watching Unsolved Mysteries back then actually did foster my reverence for mystery. In meditation I explore mysteries of my own that are far deeper and more personal than could ever be caught on tape, so perhaps I took what I needed and outgrew Unsolved Mysteries. Thanks Mr. Stack.

These days I’m more enriched by people like Herzog who ask questions out of a deep respect for life and to leave us thinking about mysteries. Unsolved Mysteries and similar shows all end with the conclusion that “We may never know the answer,” and that seems to me like it actually discourages thinking rather than inciting it.

Game of Thrones – Season 2

I’m a recent inductee into a new kind of mania. It’s called Twitter. I signed up on Saturday night and spent all of Sunday checking it like an addict, getting more and more excited for the Game of Thrones season two finale (called Valar Morghulis). The show itself, and the book series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, are a mania I’ve had for a little while longer.

Forget whether you agree with the politics of the show, or ‘aren’t into’ the fantasy genre – Game of Thrones is one of the most absorbing things on television (HBO, big surprise), on par with Breaking Bad (AMC, also not a surprise). The storytelling is so huge and the world is so rich that Game of Thrones is the best bargain on the air, in that it takes you the furthest per minute of television watched. I’ve done the math.

When adapting literature for the screen, I don’t fault screenwriters for straying from the source because film is not literature. The experience of a book is completely different from the experience of a movie. Literature generally happens in the psychology of the characters, so internal reasoning and decisions can be dramatized within the prose. Film and television are visual and audible media, so the audience must be able to see or hear the dramatic action. Compromises have to be made.

In the first season HBO and the show creators stayed close to the book, and where they deviated from its blueprint, they did so meaningfully. In season two, with a quickly expanding world of characters and locations, new customs and intrigues, a lot was changed for the screen. Some of this was great, some of it was frustrating.

So here is an offering of thoughts on the season. There will be spoilers that go deeper than season two. If you haven’t read the books and don’t want anything spoiled, don’t read on. Instead, read the books.

First, Tyrion’s story was abridged for the season. The Imp is arguably the most complex character in the series, and I was saddened that he didn’t kick as much ass in season two of the show. In the book A Clash of Kings Tyrion is active the entire time, plotting and scheming, defending the city, outdoing his sister, carving out his destiny, and protecting his lover. His discovery of Cersei’s mole was handled by a two-minute sequence. His involvement with the Alchemists was reduced to one or two brief scenes. And the giant chain-trap for Stannis in Blackwater Bay was completely eliminated. Fortunately, he still did kick ass, and Peter Dinklage deserves the praise he’s getting.

Theon’s journey is great in the book. In the show it took my breath away. Some big elements changed, particularly near the end, but I think HBO will reign it back in next season. Alfie Allen brought a great performance to the table and humanized Theon despite the character’s incredibly bad decision-making. Being able to see his face subconsciously second-guessing himself made the character heartbreaking instead of infuriating. It’s interesting that in the series Roose Bolton keeps telling Robb Stark to send the bastard Ramsay Bolton to Winterfell, yet Theon’s involvement with Ramsay was written out of the show. It’s still early in the series, but I was eager to see the Bastard Bolton because by book five he’s such a terror.

Robb Stark’s romantic plot line is completely invented for television. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t and feels a bit sappy. Fortunately for those who know the books, Robb’s scenes, particularly discussing his vow to the Frey’s with Catelyn, falls in the shadow of such dread that it can only be riveting.

Danaerys Targaryen’s narrative was distinctly weaker than last season and her foot-stomping outside of Quarth was the low-point. In A Clash of Kings she starts slowly but ends in such a bizarre and engaging finale that the progression is satisfying. The series finale veered away significantly (have we even seen a red door in the series?). Instead of trippin’ through the House of the Undying she seems to have two very sober visions before being attacked by Pyat Pree. The feeling-tone of her journey in the show isn’t as delicious as the book. But all is forgiven for that glorious dragon fire.

A Storm of Swords might be the best book in the series, so the wait for next season is going to be bittersweet. And with no concrete date for the sixth book there are a lot of what-ifs floating around the collective conscious, and a hell of a lot of time to psyche ourselves up on Twitter.

Cinematic Ontology: “World on a Wire” vs. “The Matrix”

Ontology is the study of being, or reality as it pertains to our existence. Film is arguably the most absorbing art form for dealing with this issue. After all, films represent realities of their own. 8 1/2; Blade Runner; Solaris; Inland Empire and The Tree of Life are all masterful ontological film-essays. Film effectively orchestrates sense data to engage the mind. In this way, it’s kind of like real life.

I just had the pleasure of watching World on a Wire, recently released on Blu-Ray by the Criterion Collection. Rainer Werner Fassbiner offers up a three-and-a-half-hour psychological detective story set in the merging realities of a dystopian future and the virtual reality it has created. This German masterpiece is Chinatown set in the world of The Matrix, though it predated both.

World on a Wire is a smooth, stylized film noir that that happens to be “science fiction”. It avoids projecting future technologies that might in time look outdated or embarrassingly naive. Here the technology is incidental; it’s the psychological journey that counts.

Fassbinder’s protagonist leads the action, and this is what makes the film great. All philosophers and scientists at some point, despite their metaphysical babble and mathematical systems, have to deal with reality through experience. Whether experience is sensuous, cerebral, or mysterious depends on the individual’s character, and character is story.

People may say that plot is story, but I would argue that plot is simply the sequence of a character’s actions and reactions. There are, after all, no stories devoid of characters.

The protagonist is the character the audience empathizes with. You can get a sense of the intended audience of a movie by looking at the protagonist. In World on a Wire, Fred Stiller is a smart, cynical guy searching for meaning. By contrast, Neo from The Matrix is a confused geek.

I remember people raving about The Matrix. Watch World on a Wire. Originality in The Matrix took the form of newly-realizable computer-cartoon effects. The ideas behind The Matrix were good enough, just unoriginal. Obviously ridicule is the only reason for me to mention Avatar. Ever.

I once saw a philosophy book based on The Matrix in which the Wachowski brothers claimed they crammed more philosophy into the movie than anybody will ever know (I’m paraphrasing; I didn’t read the book). This strikes me as the statement of someone who wants you to think they’re smarter than they are.

Don’t get me wrong, when I saw The Matrix I thought it was okay. Films made as showcases for new special effects have a way of being amusing. This is a dangerous thing. In this way, producers get kids to spend their time watching stupid nonsense. See Transformers or 300 for an example of a bunch of stupid nonsense.

Perhaps the most recent film along these lines is the remake of Total Recall. I don’t remember enjoying the original movie despite it being based on a short story by Philip K. Dick (I’m an admitted Philip K. Dick-head). By the looks of the trailer, they’ve put most of their efforts towards making the movie look like a video game. Does anybody else get the impression that, since The Matrix, the plan has been to assault our senses to distract us from the story?

World on a Wire, though made for German television in 1973, felt fresh like a true classic. It isn’t afraid to ask about reality, and its final moments roll out a beautifully enigmatic truth.