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This website was archived on July 20, 2019. It is frozen in time on that date.
Exolymph creator Sonya Mann's active website is Sonya, Supposedly.

Pastiche Review of Nirvana (1997)

Here’s how IMDb contributor Sembola describes the 1997 cyberpunk movie Nirvana:

“Jimi, a successful computer game designer, finds that his latest product has been infected by a virus which has given consciousness to the main character of the game, Solo. Tormented by the memory of his fled girlfriend Lisa and begged by Solo to end its useless ‘life’, Jimi begins a search for people who can help him both to discover what happened to Lisa and to delete his game before it is released.”

cyberpunk movie Nirvana from 1997

The blog 100 Films in a Year fills in a little more detail about the mysterious Solo:

“[W]e get to witness Solo’s experiences inside the game, frequently dying and re-living the same story with a group of characters who aren’t aware in the way he is. To be blunt, the in-game stuff is a bit odd. It doesn’t really go anywhere, and builds to a lacklustre climax — indeed, the word climax is a bit strong. But perhaps this is part of the point: as the only character in the game capable of independent thought, Solo is stuck in a loop of story and fellow characters who just re-enact what they were programmed to re-enact. Literally, he can’t go anywhere.”

Nirvana, 1997 cyberpunk movie

The Film Connoisseur gives the film 3.5 stars and opines:

“The thing about sci-fi films is that if you don’t have the budget to create a fictional world convincingly, it always shows. In the case of Nirvana, its budgetary restraints are evident in the cramped sets and small in scope story, but you can still see that the filmmakers tried their best to offer us interesting visuals in spite of their low budget. […] I love how low budget productions can force filmmakers to play with ideas and push the envelope and in that respect, I thought Nirvana did well. It has many ideas that help establish the futuristic elements.”

Nirvana, 1997 cyberpunk movie

And lastly, g33k-e says that despite drawing heavy inspiration from William Gibson’s Neuromancer

“Nirvana manages to remain distinct and unique in its execution of the central plot, as it deals with themes like the concept of artificial intelligences developing sentience, and the idea of immortality as a simple data construct.”

That’s how you review a movie that you haven’t watched — by assembling the best quotes from other people’s reviews!

Cyberpunk Anime: A Comprehensive List of Everything

This is a huge list of every cyberpunk anime that I could find recommended on the web. I compiled all the suggestions from blog posts, forum discussions, and so on. The list includes the usual suspects — Bubblegum CrisisErgo ProxyPsycho-Pass — but also a lot of fringe titles that you won’t find on top-ten lists.

I did eliminate some suggestions because they weren’t quite anime enough (A Scanner Darkly) or diverged from the genre too much (mecha series like Armored Trooper VOTOMS) but you are free to contest my decisions in the comments or via email. There is a list of omissions at the end. Without any further ado…

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Mad Max but Computers Instead of Cars

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

Tonight I watched Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981). The Mad Max world is dystopian, but not at all cyberpunk. As you may know if you watched 2015’s blockbuster Fury Road, the series postulates a universe — confined to the Australian Outback — where some kind of apocalypse has taken place and both gasoline and water are incredibly scarce resources. Especially gas.

The Outback — rechristened the Wasteland — is ruled by the equivalent of motorcycle gangs, who appear to be on meth all the time. (In the case of The Road Warrior, vaguely sadomasochistic motorcycle gangs, but that’s beside the point.) A few communities that actually deserve the label “community” have popped up, and they’re targeted by the psycho gangs.

Even though Mad Max is the opposite of a hyper-networked cybersphere, it poses some interesting questions for those of us who are fascinated by an oppressive computer-mediated future. As I see it, these are the issues to ponder:

  • What’s the scarce resource? Possible answers: attention, privacy, solitude.
  • Who are the strongman groups? Possible answers: law enforcement, hackers, corporations (especially corporations).
  • How can the genuine communities protect themselves? Possible answers: I’m really not sure.

I know it’s futile to end anything with a question, but I’d genuinely like to know what you think. I’m keen on protecting the communities that I participate in, but I guess I’m not feeling optimistic tonight. Email me?

Ye Olde YouTube

Cyberpunk sculptor Retech is looking for collaborators, and he asked me to spread the word. Here are the requirements:

  • video footage that’s at least two minutes long, which will be looped
  • resolution in the 640-720 range
  • audio is optional (extra noise will be introduced by Retech’s hardware)

And here is one of Retech’s pieces:

Artwork by Retech.

You can get in touch via Retech’s website. He requests, “If your message is urgent […] write the words: ‘TOP SECRET’ in the subject line. If your message is just commonplace then please write: ‘I am not a spambot or Nigerian scammer’ in the subject line.”

In other video-related news, tonight Alex and I watched Thomas in Love, a French movie that’s unintentionally retro-futurist. It came out in 2001. The filmmakers’ vision of the internet is a network of video services and “visiophones”, which are basically Skype devices. The protagonist is a thirty-something agoraphobic man whose life is controlled almost entirely by an insurance company — to which he voluntarily turned over his assets. His therapist signs him up for a video-based “dating club”, and Thomas falls in quasi-love with the first two women who pay genuine attention to him. This sounds like the setup for a dumb rom-com, but the movie is actually quite nuanced and definitely melancholy. Recommended for people who enjoy nonstandard storytelling forms, can tolerate French cinema, and also don’t need fast-paced plots to stay engaged.

The meta takeaway from Thomas in Love is that our own visions of the future will seem silly in just a couple of decades.

Biomorphic Extremism: Gynoids & Terminators

Male cyborgs are for warfare and female cyborgs are for sex. I’m not kidding — think about all the movies and books that feature human-seeming machines, especially commercial ones. What are they produced and used for? The male ones are fighters and the females are — I must use the uncouth term — fuckers. (There are exceptions, of course, like Gigolo Joe in AI and Ghost in the Shell‘s Motoko Kusanagi.) Female cyborgs often serve the manic-pixie-dream-girl role for a male protagonist, for example in Ex Machina and to a certain extent also Her.

Some of DeviantArt's "Popular All Time" search results for the term "cyborg".

Some of DeviantArt’s “Popular All Time” search results for the term “cyborg”.

I don’t think the gender binary is good or immutable. It’s interesting, and disappointing, to note how it plays out in future-oriented media. Our ideas about new bodies and new souls are strictly bounded by the currently acceptable kinds of identities. I wrote about this topic before back in early January:

“What will our avatars look like in a hundred years? Post-gender and post-form, or exactly like the musclebound hunks and bit-titted blondes that titillate today’s Second Life denizens? We mustn’t forget the furries and weaboos, already a significant contingent of any visually oriented social network (which is all of them) (especially 4chan) (maybe they don’t haunt Instagram? idk).”

The response to that piece on Facebook was basically, “Nah, I’d look like myself but with more muscles.”

For contrast, a recent sci-fi story on Vice’s Motherboard is a strange and provocative exploration of alien bodies, described by the author as “vespo-sapphic pesticidepunk”. It’s an interactive game-like experience built with Twine, and well worth your time. I usually hate interactive features because they rarely add anything to the narrative, but this was beautiful and horrifying and oozy. Reading it made me feel like I was crazy.

All of this is on my mind because tonight I watched Natural City, an excellent Korean B-movie described thus in Wikipedia:

Two cops, R and Noma, hunt down renegade cyborgs. The cyborgs serve a number of duties, ranging from military commandos to “dolls”, engineered for companionship. [In this case, “companionship” is a euphemism for sex — amusingly, the wiki link led to the page for “sex worker”.] They have a limited 3-year lifespan, although black market technology has been developed to transfer a cyborg’s artificial intelligence into the brain of a human host.

This breakthrough compels R into finding Cyon, an orphaned prostitute, who may serve as the host for the mind of his doll Ria. He has fallen deeply in love with his doll and she has only a few days left to live.

Eventually, R must make a decision between leaving the colony with Ria to spend her last days with him on a paradise-like planet or save his friends when a renegade combat cyborg takes over the police headquarters.

Highly recommended.

Conspiracy Theories Suppressing Conspiracy Theories

Today’s dispatch was contributed by Ken Rodriguez.

I recently watched the first installment of The X-Files’ new six-part series. In order to avoid spoilers, let’s say that the conclusion is surprising and expected at the same time. The government is hiding more — and less — from us than we think (according to the show’s plot). Watching it reminded me of a thought that I had several months ago (when no one was encouraging me to write about it). I was wondering whether “the powers that be” allow us to have a certain amount of entertainment that criticizes government and corporate intervention in our private lives. Are movies and shows like The Machine, Breaking Bad, and Idiocracy rationed at a high enough frequency to let us blow off some steam, but not so often that we can keep the concepts in our collective minds and put the pieces together? Is there more than an element of truth in what these shows contain?

Scully and Mulder depicted by Taylor Rose; $30 on Etsy.

Scully and Mulder depicted by Taylor Rose; $30 on Etsy.

The American public is maddeningly forgetful and inattentive. We see it in our lionization of figures such as Oliver North, George Gordon Liddy, and Howard Dean. Even Patty Hearst and OJ Simpson have a certain cachet. We scare ourselves with movies like The Matrix and Terminator, happy to idly ponder if we’re really being controlled by something outside of ourselves — but then we go home, crack open a beer, watch the game, and go to bed. We go on with our lives because, really, what are we going to do about it? We need food. We need shelter. We have children. People are depending on us. It’s easier and safer to go on as we have because to do otherwise is to face the possibility of disgrace, upheaval, or worse.

Since 1999, Donald Trump has quit the Republican party, been a Reform Party candidate, a Democrat, and a Republican. Does anyone remember this? We’re too busy being entertained by him to consider his policies. Barack Obama came into office on a left-wing wave against government conservatism, only to deport more immigrants than any other president before him and mount a drone war that makes him look as hawkish as George Bush. We didn’t protest when Obama failed to employ grand juries to investigate the banks and brokerages behind what we are calling the “Great Recession”. If it isn’t in our faces right now, it never existed.

This ignorance exists in an era when there is more information available than ever before, and it is right at our fingertips. Yet we know more about our Netflix queue and our Facebook friends than we do about who is the vice president. Anybody remember Google Glass? The evening news only carries the most sensational stories because ratings are more important than current events. Are we amusing ourselves to death?

Contemporary entertainment is full of conspiracy theories and government plots to exert more control over the citizens. Corporations are demonized regularly. These works reflect the reality that we see in targeted advertising, the Patriot Act, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, to name just a few. When we go to the movies or watch our favorite shows, we rail against the intrusive government or the evil corporations. We feel angry about what is being done to us by the faceless entities that we fear.

Chris Carter, before the first run of The X-Files, was afraid the FBI was about to “shut [him] down”. We may even think ourselves smarter than the average American zombie because we see through the commercial propaganda that permeates even the programming we pay for (remember when cable TV had no commercials?). But when someone tries publicly to do something about these intrusions, they are “too radical” or a “weirdo socialist”. We like to see someone in the movies succeed against the oppressors, but we don’t want to be the one who sticks their neck out. We’ve heard too many stories like those of John Savage in Brave New World or Winston Smith in 1984.

With all of these anti-authoritarian ideas out there, how much is enough to make us break out the pitchforks? Or is it this very content that prevents rebellion? The cyberpunk Facebook page where I hang out has plenty of curmudgeons and anarchists. There’s copious ranting about government intervention in our private lives and about corporate control of media and government. Weekly we have a dustup about some meme or post that the administrators deleted. Are we defeating our own angst by having these blowoffs?

We experience the effects of endorphins when our brains shift from left to right during TV watching. This is what gets us addicted to visual media. Is this pleasure short-circuiting our outrage, making us docile and suggestible? Or have we just not yet reached a critical mass in our frustration? Or are we afraid that, like Howard Beale in Network, if we’re “mad as hell” and are “not going to take it any more”, we will end up like him, with the corporate media having appropriated even our anger and rebellion?

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