fiction is more often about the present - something few people can understand
about a genre that seems mostly intent on playing off in the future. At the very
least science fiction reflects the dreams and hopes and attitudes of the time
in which it was made. Take for example the implicit belief in technology and American
superiority in the original 1960s Star Trek. Contrast this to the plot of 1990s
Star Trek Voyager - lost in space and aimlessly drifting around, looking for a
way back home.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Strange Days. The future
in this film is depressingly familiar to the 1990s audience: it is New Year's
Eve 1999. Los Angeles is the scene of endless rioting, social unrest, a new technology
(drug?) makes it possible for you to experience other people's direct experiences
(the logical outcome of virtual reality?), paranoia, you name it.
this is Cyberpunk territory all right: high-tech yet dilapidated, neon and concrete.
Into this scenario is thrown Ralph Fiennes as the likable anti-hero,
a smalltime reality drug pusher who seems to live on his memories of a happy relationship
with a rock singer who-has-made-it-big-and-left-him-in-the-meantime Juliette Lewis.
He discovers the truth about the brutal slaying of a politically radical rap singer
by the police. The hunt is on. Everybody seems to want him dead.
Much of the movie rests on Fiennes (who did an excellent portrayal of a dumb
yet brutal concentration camp commander in Schindler's List (1993)). He gives
us a sleazy yet affable fast-talking anti-hero short on macho heroics. In fact,
if it wasn't for the mean mother character played by Angela Basset
he would have been knocked off early on in the movie. Much of the movie is as
offbeat as the Fiennes character - visually haunting and politically cynical.
As far as dystopias go, this one of the most powerful ever seen on celluloid -
probably because it is so real. A tour de force...
then comes the last twenty or so minutes. It would suddenly seem that the film
makers realized what they were doing (making an intelligent and memorable film
in Hollywood!) and decided to tack on a happy ending that feels as out of place
as punks attending a Beethoven concert. What begins as a potential riot as one
of the characters is sadistically beaten by police à la Rodney King soon
degenerates into the hero and heroine happily kissing in the midst of the crowd.
The future is more of the same it would seem one thinks leaving the theater. The
same clichés, that is...
All of this is a shame because I have rarely seen a film so ruined by a tacked
on happy ending. (The other being The Abyss (1989) - strangely enough directed
by James Cameron one of the screen writers on this movie.)
Try to walk out before the ending...
film is directed by Kathryn Bigelow who is a true rarity: a woman
action movie director in Hollywood. Needless to say, this particular perspective
has given her some new angles on the genre as witnessed by this film and her previous
Point Break (1991) in which she does some interesting things with an otherwise
testosterone-injected subject. Unfortunately Strange Days didn't do
as well at the box office which is a shame because it deserved a bigger audience
despite its shallow ending...)
Review by James O'Ehley from The
Sci-Fi Movie Page.