Actor Christopher Walken tries to have a Brainstorm (1983)

brainstorm3This Christopher Walken movie reaches for something incredibly deep and meaningful, but doesn’t quite make it, although that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it.  In the same vein as Tron (1982) or War Games (1983) of the 80s, this science fiction movie has themes of humanity it plays around with, which makes it a cut above the rest in my opinion.  It has a little atmosphere, good special effects, and some decent character drama, where the people aren’t just apathetic cardboard cutouts of real people.  I liked most of the characters, and smirked at the jackasses, because that’s what you’re supposed to do when Christopher Walken treats his wife like crap.  In any case, this movie is probably not as entertaining as Tron (1982) or War Games (1983), but it has enough entertainment value for me, by far. 

brainstorm2I’m not sure who has the best performance, but Christopher Walken has many stand-out scenes.  Although she died while filming this movie, Natalie Wood is pretty much wasted in her role.  Most of the strong female lines are delivered by Louise Fletcher, while Wood is relegated to the background.  It’s a pretty mixed bag in the acting department, but none of the cast are any worse than Matthew Broderick whining all the time in War Games.

This movie uses a gadget to move the plot, and seriously focuses on it all the time.  That’s all the characters talk about after a while.  In fact, the whole of human existence comes into question because of this little gadget.  It’s like a pseudo-MacGuffin or something.  Christopher Walken invents this device to amplify human emotions and share them telepathically with others.  They start recording their experiences and passing them around like DVDs.  The movie uses a first person perspective to show these experiences, as if we were experiencing them too.

brainstorm4The camera also plays with perspective in other ways.  While experiencing a recording, we’re shown how distant and lost a person looks.  On more than one occasion, the camera zooms in on the actor and they have a blank look on their face, as they stare directly at the audience, in effect communicating the absorbing power of entertainment.  The movie also communicates the power of technology to overpower humanity and dull “existence” to nothing.  Imagine a teenager sitting in front of a computer for six hours on a Saturday and you’ll realize the power of this gadget Walken invented.

brainstorm5The movie plays around with the usual government interference threats, and some character conflict, but then zips off to weirdo-land as it deals with life after death.  Louise Fletcher is somehow able to stagger across her lab while she’s having a heart-attack in time to record her death experiences, which is pretty far-fetched, but they have to set up the next steps for this movie somehow.  Anyway, the recording becomes ANOTHER MacGuffin, as the characters argue over it for the rest of the movie.  What’s on the tape?  What did she experience?  Did she see God?

Yeah, none of what we REALLY want answered is really addressed.  The movie plays it safe with vague depictions of time, space, and white light all jumbled together.  Michael plays the rest of the tape at the end of the movie and zooms into space, then dances around with white things that look like Angels, I guess.  The whole thing might have been as trippy as a Stanley Kubrick movie, if the sequence wasn’t interrupted every five seconds by Natalie Wood yelling at him to wake up.  I was smirking and telling her to be quiet.  Send Christopher Walken into space again!

All in all, this movie uses science fiction to its fullest, although infringes on my tolerance at times with its outdated tone and metaphoric message.  The middle section is the best, where the characters are struggling like businessmen with their discovery and trying to figure out what it’s capable of.  The metaphoric message isn’t really all that metaphoric by the end, as the movie telegraphs a hopeful tune.  Christopher Walken is not as over-the-top as in other movies he’s been in, and his hair looks good, so that’s at least something, but this movie is largely a weakness of mine because I like how science fiction can explore almost anything.  I guess that’s why the characters end up at the Wright Brother’s Museum at the end, because they too are explorers of the human existence.  I didn’t need a sign to tell me that, though.

 

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