Altered Carbon (Season 1, 2018)
The Neo-Noir science fiction thriller Altered Carbon (Season 1, 2018) weaves a story about memory and identity. In this future people have a new kind of mind-body relationship. This situation has been made possible by technology allowing the storage of the mind and memory using special chips, which can be inserted into different bodies or ‘sleeves’.
The ultra-rich own multiple cloned sleeves of themselves and have their ‘mind’ chip backed up, which effectively gives them everlasting life. But, there’s a downside. These immortals or ‘Meths’ are all-powerful; they dominate business, politics and society and this has led to a dystopia of inequality and corruption.
In enters Takeshi Kovacs, an ex-terrorist who fought against the people developing the new technology, and lost. After a couple of centuries ‘on ice’ he’s brought back to life in a new sleeve to investigate the murder of a ‘Meth’ who’s hoping to find out who killed him. The character who wakes up from a long sleep is a classic fantasy / sci-fi device that takes the protagonist from our world into the future, much like the 1819 story Rip Van Winkle of a character who goes to sleep and wakes up in the future.
Tonally, Altered Carbon is unabashed pulp fiction with a strong dose of Philip K. Dick. Its over-the-top approach feels enjoyably trashy, but the production values, the quality of the writing and acting are anything but that. Altered Carbon is a true Neo Noir, or cyberpunk story, the Raven Hotel, which provides Takeshi’s base, with its AI manager Poe, personifies techno-goth. In the end, the message is clear: no one is meant to live forever.
- Rosemary’s Baby (1968) is an odd film. Having just watched the Seventies classic, Straw Dogs, I was struck by the similarities between the two. Both feature a weak husband, a beautiful wife (struggling to be taken seriously), a claustrophobic and closed community with its own rules, fashionably experimental (for the times) camerawork, weird shooting angles, and some questionable sexual politics. It’s possible to interpret Rosemary’s Baby as a straightforward warning story, a horror. Some of the psychological, surrealist sequences are very Hitchcockian. It also works as a black comedy about the establishment, and the desperation to succeed at any price. Guy, Rosemary’s husband, will do anything to turn around his failing acting career. Most of the film takes place in two cramped apartments. The environments feel theatrical, almost like a stage set. The claustrophobic nature of the interiors intensifies the close proximity of the characters. Wide-angle lenses, extreme close ups, harsh lighting, and shots pointing up at the characters from the floor maintains the unsettling atmosphere. The creepiness of Minnie and Roman and the matter-of-fact treatment of Rosemary – as she is deceived, manipulated and abused – is disconcerting. Unlike Straw Dogs where the perpetrators of injustice are all killed, in Rosemary’s Baby the forces of evil take control. Their power is complete when Rosemary gives in and accepts defeat. Mia Farrow’s Twiggy-like waif-ness accentuates her vulnerability, while Guy’s callousness, his calculating poker-face contrasts with Rosemary’s psychological nightmare. Her inability to expose the conspiracy around her, and her husband’s calm compliance with Minnie and Roman culminates in a shock ending.
- David Sumner, the main character in Straw Dogs (1971), comes across as a kind of Benjamin Braddock from The Graduate, (both characters are played by Dustin Hoffman), who’s broken up with Elaine and moved to a small village in Cornwall with his new English girlfriend. He’s the same, mild-mannered, middle-class, preppy city boy – forced into contact with brutish, working-class men from the local English village. In moving to the countryside, the protagonist leaves behind his or her support network. There’s a feeling of isolation, paranoia and being overwhelmed by savage forces. As the tension and threats increase, David Sumner loses his liberal demeanour, and denial that anything untoward might happen. Like the boys in Lord of the Flies, he reverts back to his basic survival instincts, shedding his polite middle-class demeanour to endorse violence against those who threaten him and the people he’s responsible for. The attack on the farm house turns into a siege story, like the scenario from The Alamo. Straw Dogs is a story of a disintegrating relationship, of mutual blame, and personal alienation in an unfamiliar environment, female sexuality, and male violence in a place where the locals have different rules. David Sumner turns from a feminised anti-hero into an all-male hero.