It’s All a Game
2 & ½ popcorns
By Michael S. Goldberger
It occurs while viewing Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One” that this is something Dr. Timothy Leary might have dreamt if he fell asleep just after reading Orwell’s “1984.” As a pundit I knew in 1969 was oft inclined to opine when bemused by the semi-unexplainable, “It’s trippy.” Although the film bounces back and forth between reality and its cause célèbre, virtual reality, we are ultimately relieved when we grok that beneath all the layers of surrealism and cutting edge chimera, it’s just good vs. evil fighting it out in high-tech trappings.
In this feature-length metaphor within a satire based on Ernest Cline’s LitRPG (Literary Role Playing Game) novel, it’s 2045 and the disparity between haves and have-nots has increased exponentially…rendering life for the impoverished masses unspeakably dismal and hopeless. As in the dystopian world of “Rollerball” (1975), government is but a slim shadow rendered insignificant by the mega-corporations who rule with an iron thumb. Thus, for most, the only salvation is regular immersion in virtual reality, effectively the new opiate of the people.
Representing the ordinary guy, who we hope will prove capable of extraordinary bravery before the closing credits roll, is Tye Sheridan’s Wade a.k.a. Parzival. The a.k.a.is who he’s known as in the cyber underworld where his cool, punk presence has won him similarly veiled friends. Unhampered by the lack of money and great expectations, they zoom here and there, hurtling from avant-garde night clubs to all sorts of exciting adventures in their sky-is-the-limit fantasy world known as the Oasis.
But for all the self-deception the alternate consciousness represents, suddenly there is a glimmer of hope …a prize that would afford Wade/Parzival greater say in his destiny, and in the bargain perhaps make the world a better place. You see, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), the brilliant, eccentric creator of the Oasis has recently died…well before his time. But before leaving for that unknown reality in the sky, the Steve Jobs-like icon set up a challenge…a cyberworld scavenger hunt wherein whoever figures out a multi-layered riddle will inherit the much heralded Oasis.
But while it would be difficult enough to extricate this Excalibur from its stone with no malevolent impediment, introduced stage right is Nolan Sorrento, owner of IOI, the video game conglomerate hell-bent on gaining control of the Oasis. Bereft of any morality, whether on terra firma or down in the catacombs of the legendary Halliday’s creation, figure on this scourge to pull out all stops, Bond villain style, in his ugly quest to own everyone, body and soul.
Heck, the guy even has his own private jail system…a debtor’s prison of sorts. Called Loyalty Centers, they’re where folks who’ve maxed out their credit must work for little more than slave wages. Loyalty? We scratch our heads, trying to recall where we’ve recently heard the term used.
Now, it wouldn’t be much fun if Wade had to battle the foe all by himself. So, to make it a touch Hemingwayesque, in the throes of freedom fighting the protagonist finds a confederate of the fairer sex to lend him a hand. Portrayed by Olivia Cooke, she is Art3mis in the imaginary landscape and Samantha in real life. The evolving courtship, dabbed with the smart-alecky thrusting and parrying that must accompany any worthwhile relationship, purports to say something about love in the Brave New World. But the insight goes much deeper.
Here, per the values espoused by those soaring hither and yon, one must fall in love not only with the actual being, but with the creation of his or her imagination. Whether now or in days to come, if you don’t share, or at least respect, each other’s dreams, you might be headed for a nightmare. Taking all that duality and applying it to the bigger picture, it follows that in order to defeat the totalitarian forces that would rule them, our illustrious mind warriors of the future must combat the enemy’s inner as well as outer evil. Sound complicated? Count on it.
I assume no liability. A stranger in a strange land, I’ve done my Marco Polo best, trying to at least render a Classic Comics recap. As “Ready Player One” is told in the lingua franca of a generation weaned on the sensibilities of ones and zeroes, the Great Unwashed might wish they had a libretto if not a Sherpa to guide them over the mountains of technobabble. Still, my delve into the confusion was fruitful, even if only to assure that the never ending battle for truth, justice and the American way is alive and well in 2045. Plus, I got an a.k.a.: Call me Kritik1.
“Ready Player One,” rated PG-13, is a Warner Bros. release directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke and Ben Mendelsohn. Running time: 140 minutes