Strange Days

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[edit] Strange Days and Cyberpunk

Strange Days DVD cover
Strange Days DVD cover

The 1995 film Strange Days, directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by James Cameron, has often been characterized as a cyberpunk film. Michelle Chilcoat states, “A defining feature of cyberpunk cinema is the fantasy of detachment of the human mind from the mortal body so it can live on indefinitely in cyberspace. The 1990s was the decade of this genre, in which the brain, jacked into its mechanical/digital counterpart, the computer, figures prominently.”[1] Other notable films which are considered part of the cyberpunk movement include Total Recall, Blade Runner, The Matrix and Johnny Mnemonic. All of these films, in one way or another, deal with a split between mind and body inherent in posthumanism. Strange Days, starring Ralph Fiennes as Lenny and Angela Basset as Mace, takes place in 1999 in Los Angeles. Lenny is a dealer of illegal SQUID tapes. SQUID stands for Superconducting Quantam Interface Device. In the film, these devices can be worn on the head of the user. There, they transmit the lived experiences of another human being direct into the cerebral cortex, allowing the wearer to experience another person’s life. The SQUID technology is a central element of the film’s narrative, which also deals with a conspiracy and the murder of a rapper named Jeriko. Because SQUID technology co-opts and plays with the cinematic gaze, Strange Days has attracted attention from film studies academic. In the context of Roboculture, the implications of SQUID technology resonate with notions of the posthuman.

[edit] SQUID Technology and the Posthuman

Elaine Graham states, “For embedded in the various representations of our posthuman future emergent in new technologies are crucial issues of identity, community and spirituality: what it means to be human, who counts as being fully human, and who gets excluded in definitions of the (post)human.”[2] Theories of the posthuman indicate the question mark that has become human subjectivity in light of the technologies which so frequently permeate and impinge on human existence. Memory plays an integral role in the ways that identities are developed maintained. As John Storey points out, “Our autobiographical narratives are primarily sustained by memory.”[3] What, then, are the implications of the SQUID technology?

[edit] The Limits of the Body

As human beings confined to a physical body, there are limits to what we are capable of. With technologies, humans are now able to extend the scope of their experiences and abilities beyond the limits of their physical bodies. In my entry on 24, I discussed how satellite technologies expand Jack Bauer’s consciousness by providing him with knowledge of enemy locations which he could not possibly acquire otherwise. When in, for example, a hostage situation, he is able to plan a route of attack by learning their locations without exposing and endangering himself. Strange Days offers a parallel, as users of SQUID technology are able to acquire dangerous experiences without endangering themselves. The opening scene is a blistering action sequence SQUID recording of a robbery gone wrong:

The full adrenaline can be felt without ever being in any danger to the physical body. It is also important to note that all SQUID recordings are in the past-tense, further allowing a type of mediated time travel for human consciousness. Perhaps the best example of this is Lenny’s constant viewing of SQUID recordings of him and his ex-girlfriend Faith (Juliette Lewis) in order to re-experience their happier times. Human experience is expanded beyond the limits of a singular consciousness in a singular body at a singular moment in time.

[edit] Trading Subjectivities into Cyborg Oblivion

The SQUID technology effectively translates lived human memories into a series of ones and zeros which can be viewed as entertainment. Lenny says, “This is not like TV, only better. This is life. It’s a piece of somebody’s life. It’s pure and uncut, straight from the cerebral cortext.”[4] As Steven Shaviro explains, “The SQUID tapes depersonalise memory, turning it instead into an exchangeable, and infinitely reproducible, commodity.”[5] Furthermore, by radically isolating memory as a digital thought stream, SQUID technology emphasizes the mind/body separation characteristic of the posthuman. This interface between human and technology thus erodes the humanist ideal of the self as monolithic and absolute, allowing the characters in the film take on a sort of technologically-mediated cyborg identity. In a sense, this is a complete amplification of Landsberg’s notion of prosthetic memory. As Graham explains, “the cyborg occupies a larger, metaphorical space in social theory, symbolizing the increasing interconnections between humans and technologies, a kind of ‘thought experiment’, in our understanding of being human in an age of advanced technologies.”[6] SQUID technology shows exactly that ‘human’ is a term which “undergoes radical mutations.”[7]

For Strange Days, it is not just the sense that technologies have deconstructed the individuality of human experience into computer data which is significant. The monolithic sense that you are you and I am me is obliterated when the users of the SQUID technology temporarily are absorbed into another identity. Perhaps the most notable scene in the film involves the film’s villain Max (Tom Sizemore) murdering Iris (Brigitte Bako), a prostitute. As he kills her, not only does he record the act with a SQUID device, but he also forces her to wear a SQUID device and experience her own victimization through his point of view. Additionally, the audience is also implicated in this process of the sadistic gaze because, like Iris, they are also engaged in looking. In this “ever-intensifying feedback loop”[8] it becomes incredibly difficult to separate the different subjectivities as they interact and merge into each other. The boundaries of the absolute self are no longer hermetically sealed.

[edit] See also

[edit] External Links

[edit] References

  1. Michelle Chilcoat, “Brain Sex, Cyberpunk Cinema, Feminism, and the Dis/Location of Heterosexuality,” NWSA Journal, Volume 16, Issue 2, 2004.
  2. Elaine Graham, “Post/Human Conditions,” Theology and Sexuality, Volume 10, Issue 2, 12.
  3. John Storey, Inventing Popular Culture: From Folklore to Globalization, (Cornwall: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), 81.
  4. Strange Days, Dir. Kathryn Bigelow, Perf. Ralph Fiennes, Angela Basset, Juliette Lewis, 20th Century Fox, 1995.
  5. Steven Shaviro, “Straight from the Cerebral Cortex: Vision and Affect in Strange Days,” The Cinema of Kathryn Bigelow: Hollywood Transgressor, ed. Deborah Jermyn and Sean Redmond, (London and New York: Wallflower Press, 2003), 173.
  6. Graham, 15.
  7. Shaviro, 173.
  8. Shaviro, 170.
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