“Use the levels!” Okay, I’ll try! I need a word, first, for what I so fucking am—not “stoned,” as though in the proverbial village square, not “baked,” but raw, not “high” but somehow the more perfectly attuned to the axes of that cold, glowy grid. But for all that it promises precision and speed and circuit it’s a world that couldn’t be heavier or more clogged and bogged down with all we lug: the young hero finds dad Jeff Bridges vanished 30 years into his work, literally, constructing a new world that the son, transported there, must quickly master. No wonder Telemachus has no personality, he’s too busy playing catch-up, while dad’s so complex he’s split in two: gray-bearded benevolent sage (username: thedudeabides22) vs. pure, un-aged superego acting as dictator over “people” who are really programs—the easier to be erased. They shatter like car windowglass. Culture, the ultimate family business. And how does the son report the intervening three decades to the dad who missed them? “Ice caps melting, the Middle East, the rich getting richer, cell phones.” Don’t forget pretzel M&Ms, kid, I’m up to my elbow in a bag of ‘em.
Like Avatar, this film embodies what it dramatizes: the virtually-young Bridges, however deep in the uncanny valley, presages every virtual actor auditioning just around the next technological corner. Our modern conundrum and wish of wishes—The Matrix, Akira, Frankenstein, King Kong on the spire—is the animal on the grid, order laid over meat, flesh as software, mind as hardware, the cyborg’s greedy consciousness fused and fulfilled. Haunting the old arcade. “The only way to win is not to play,” cribbed straight from Wargames, is offered up here as an outmoded boomerism. “The coward is despised because he refuses to play the game, and so reminds us that it is a game, and that we have a choice of not playing it.”—Northrop Frye. And: “The strong man or successful ruler is the man who is no longer aware of a disparity between reality and appearance, and is able to live in a continuous state of self-hypnosis.” Take us to Defcon One. All those guys with their dicks (discs?) in their hands on Chatroulette are really an army-in-waiting for the war to end all wars.
Tugging those rubber pants on and off, oy. One wakes up, certain days, and feels evolution at work inside. Its way of wanting what it wants—ruthless and ingenious—teaches how impoverished our little wantings, which nevertheless echo its profounder action, really are. Americans are said to be shallow but we’re not especially fun: Do you want to know what we care about in 2010? I’ll tell you: Duty and Dystopia, stoically sticking around or else arriving somewhere awful, probably pretty soon. My New Year’s resolution will be to wear crazier clothes.