Sunday, January 25, 2015

Strange Days

"I'd be inclined to be yours for the taking
And part of this terrible mess that you're making."

Anna Nalick - Catalyst

Wanna see what Kathryn Bigelow was doing before she was contracted by the establishment to glorify its hired muscle? Let's watch some scifi. Old '90s scifi. Old, gritty, apocalyptic, trash-can-fire '90s cyberpunk. Huh. You know, there have actually been relatively few of those flicks, and even fewer which have made the big time. After Blade Runner, the genre got its most recent popularity boost with The Matrix, but though that satisfied devout fans enough not to throw rocks at the screen, it was still somewhat too "glam" to qualify as an acceptable movie reference encapsulating its literary roots. The Matrix is not what Interview with the Vampire was to dark fantasy or Jackson's Lord of the Rings adaptation was to high fantasy.

Neither is Strange Days. When discussing cyberpunk, comparisons to Neuromancer become nearly unavoidable. No other representative work has hit as hard and fast, nothing else has spun its audience so quickly out of their comfort zone. Yet Neuromancer did so partly by attacking gender roles and human relationships. Despite its trademark low-rung antiheroes, much of cyberpunk deals with transcendence and "me Tarzan, you Jane" is among the first tropes it must shatter in order to successfully do so. Molly Millions so fascinates not only for playing the bad-ass bad-girl street samurai but because she's not perfect at it. Such characters are normally mere feminist wet dreams who can do no wrong in beating down manly straw-men but Molly manages to be a true individual. Case in turn was not relegated to the status of straw-man or foil for some plucky little girl who saves that filthy pig from himself on her way to single-handedly shattering "the patriarchy" and stylin' the latest fashions while she's at it.

Perhaps this is why we can't get a big-budget Hollywood adaptation of Neuromancer. It refused to play to feminist tropes. In turn we get plenty of tacky romantic subplots crucial to the main plot, in which the male protagonist does everything for his love interest. Neo being brought back to life with a kiss? Are you fucking kidding me? Saving animal sentience from extinction apparently isn't incentive enough. He had to get rez-erected by his simian pair-bonded mate. Strange Days' two protagonists more closely resembled Case and Molly but its sexual archetypes even more insidiously pandered to feminist propaganda. The movie's villain is male sexuality. In order to secure the audience's sympathy (in which she and Cameron apparently failed monumentally) Bigelow cast males and females in their now-traditional roles as oppressors and victims. It's not enough to bring a murderer to justice and expose a corrupt system. The real crime is killing attractive young females and of course the perpetrators are little more than walking penises with no further motivation than being male.

Strange Days remains somewhat valuable for the scarcity of cyberpunk portrayals and in many ways it's worth watching... cum grano salis. It lacks Gibson's beautifully balanced, much more egalitarian nuance of a decade prior which has made Molly outshine not just Case but the plethora of feminist superwomen as a protagonist. Molly was fallible and ethically real and capable of feeling shame and guilt. But, hell, I'm guessing Angela Bassett would have refused to play anything like Molly's meat-puppet scene. We all know that women are never violent even when they're violent, right?

"And you'd be inclined to be mine for the taking
And part of this terrible mess that I'm making."

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