"The Game" is one of those few films that combine humor and terror: much like one's life, of course. One moment we are shaking in fear in our seats, the next we are convulsing with laughter. As if the movie were poking fun at itself, and it really should, because I am certain I speak for everyone when I say that if anyone gave me a birthday present like that, I will shoot that person without remorse.
Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy the movie tremendously, unlike my companians at the theater. They thought the movie was weird and sick. Okay, I like weird, okay? I loved "Se7en," so there's no surprise that I like the director's next effort. The scenes are pasted together with intricate precision, and these people must know a lot about the audience. Our attention is shifted, via camera angles, towards the smallest things, the tiniest sounds, the whole world focused one on event, nerves high strung. "They" know when silence is indeed golden, and when a few piano keys can produce astounding effects. They know that we will find these details intriguing, that we will be terrified yet drawn into the "game" ourselves, much like the protagonist Nicholas Van Something (teehee, sorry). Like every good movie, this film puts us IN THERE, it makes us become Nicholas. We feel his melancholy and desperation seeping through the screen right from the beginning, and we feel as if his childhood memories were ours. We are playing that game, we are nervous and scared as hell and we don't know what's going to happen next. Even if the movie didn't live up to its premise, the suspense definitely makes up for it. That's the beauty of it, and as a suspense thriller the movie definitely achieves.
As the movie progresses we become more and more paranoid, and in a sense now I really know how Fox Mulder must feel, not trusting anyone. That is an awful terror, thinking everyone you ever knew, you ever trusted, has betrayed you. The dark, moody atmosphere underlies that distrust and neurosis, while the silent friction between the actors provide the rest that is needed. Michael Douglas once again pulls off the Mid-Age-Crisis- and-in-Distress character (as in "Falling Down"), much like Sherman McCoy in Bonfire of the Vanities; and Sean Penn, though in a smaller role, continues to shine, reminding me of his excellent work in "Dead Man Walking." The supporting cast, most of whose names I cannot recall-- including as a treat for X-Philes the guy who played Mulder's dad as Nicholas's attorney Sam Sutherland--is nicely chosen, their faces like many others in the crowd on the streets we see everyday, seen but quickly forgotten until the final scenes, until we exclaim, "Ohhhhhh, it's that guy!"
One can only envy the mastermind who dreamt up this web of insanity and absurdity that takes place in a world we are so familiar with. A scenario that is too real but simply cannot take place (or can it?) in reality. Everything in Nicholas's world (ours?) looks normal, everything that he experiences prior to the Game is normal, those little moments, gestures, sounds in life that we all take for granted until something changes. It is then that we begin to feel the tension and anxiety, when we begin to understand what it feels like to have the world against us. When Nicholas leaps off a building near the end, when the memories come crashing towards us, we are certain that this is the end, and we feel the sorrow so definitely, and the pain so sharp and piercing, that the end comes truly as a surprise. The former would make the movie a more daring, edgy piece (once again, like "Falling Down"); the latter providing us the happy (though unconventional) ending. I cannot say which I like more.
Is the Game really a reflection of our inner turmoils? Is it simply magnifying the terror and paranoia we feel as we march towards the twenty-first century? Is it just a movie, aiming for shock value? The movie invites wide-ranged interpretations, the ending provokes debate, whether you love it or hate it. A part of me wishes that the moral of the movie can be as simple as it seems, that Nicholas, being through all this will finally learn to "love" (aaawwwww, how warm and fuzzy) and not be afraid to show it, as he does so to his ex-wife's family at the end.
Another part of me is at once thrilled and terrified by this Game, so that nothing else matters but what is left of me: memories and fragments of a life that for 2 hours and 15 minutes did not exist any longer.
After all, isn't life just a game?
RATING: A- (First viewing, 9/18/97)
*I do not even want to know about the bill Connie eventually got for this costly birthday gift.