If you’ve done any prereading about this film, released in Britain over the weekend, you’ll know the plot without having to see it. I had read little, or forgotten what I did know, and the story unravelled to me alongside Jake Gyllenhaal’s character. We are meant to share his confusion, his disorientation, and together gradually piece together where he is, what he’s doing, what’s happened to him and for whom he is working.
All I would say that this belongs in the intelligent summer mind bending sci fi camp, alongside the Matrix and Inception.
It underdevelops the emotional and moral exploration that the subject and story lend themselves to. A bit like Titanic, it’s a love story based on a short acquaintance during a transport disaster between two young people. But the girl on the train isn’t the most interesting woman in the film; and like Titanic, some of the actions are cringe-inducing. There could be a greater twist with the originator of the bomb, who is not given enough of an incentive. For a time, it felt like a brave film that questioned governments but it came out as pro USA and military. At least the terrorists aren’t Middle Eastern and the city for once is not New York.
This is the part where I do need to do some spoiling.
That a dismembered corpse is secretly used for government purposes is extremely immoral. Can the army play God, prolonging life at its will and without the consent of the person involved? What kind of life does the Captain have, being stuck in a pod simulation but in reality naked and disfigured in a life support machine? He does not choose the mission, he cannot escape it, he is told only what his creators and superiors wish to tell him. His family and friends think he is dead. This assumes we have no spirit and that the spirit can be held in the body and recalled to fit in with a computer programme. That such a programme might exist in the future, if not already, is frightening. Although the Captain does query his role and subverts his mission with the help of the excellent Goodwin, he chooses to let their deception and God experiment continue.
There are many queries, such as: how can a memory be altered to investigate things what were not part of the deceased’s memory? There are more moral questions too, from the host’s point of view, which aren’t explored. And this comes into the territory of the Superman films, where he turns back time to erase a disaster. Isn’t it one of the great questions we have to grapple with – if God is real, why doesn’t he prevent such disasters? I have always felt that prevention and erasure are not tools for a maturing journey, however much loss and struggle are involved. This is another case of the nanny state.
Although a fun though claustrophobic way to spend an evening, it’s still quite light compared to what it could be, and in the light of what’s revealed by the end, rather unsettling.