In Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s film The Gamer, we see a fitting visual representation of Martin Heidegger’s fears in The Question Concerning Technology regarding the essence of technology. The protagonist Kable sees his humanity demoted to what Heidegger describes as “standing reserve,” his use to society limited by the constraints of technology. Heidegger’s fears that humanity will lose its connection to both itself and the nature that surrounds them is fully realized in this dystopia created by the corrupt programmer, Ken Castle. What’s even more disturbing is that this advancement of technology has actually led to a degradation of society. Even though Heidegger warns that humanity assigning all earthly elements as standing-reserve is dangerous, he still sees the possibility of enframing as a way to maximize the application of human resources. In the world presented by The Gamer, we see technology only enframed as way to exploit violent and sexual fetishes. Kable’s purpose to the world is simply to fulfill the personal gratification of the demented gamer that controls him, Simon. Kable spends his time in a jail cell aimlessly waiting for his next battle. While society receives entertainment from him, he himself has been stripped of his humanity and becomes a tool to satisfy society’s needs.
When Kable tries to break free of his monotonous life in standing-reserve, we start to see why Heidegger is concerned that there might be a point where society can no longer escape the process of enframing. As he says enframing, “thrusts man into the danger of the surrender of his free essence.” We see Kable in the climax of the movie struggle to regain control of his free essence. In his mind, he knows what he wants, to defeat Castle in this final scene. Yet, he is unable to communicate with his body to perform this action. He has spent too long under the control of Castle and Simon that he cannot regain control of his own existence. Even when he is finally able to plunge the knife into Castle, the film presents it more of Simon’s doing than Kable’s.
This is Heidegger’s fear brought to life. He believes there will be a point when humanity can no longer free themselves from this constant process of enframing. It could be argued that Kable has been comprised and will never be able to have his full humanity back. In the final scene where Kable and his family are driving through the countryside, he still is the same emotionless character that he was in the rest of the movie. His face expresses no joy or happiness that would usually be associated with a scene like that. He spent so long in that dark prison, only utilized as a technological tool for society that he has lost basic human emotions. In that final confrontation with Castle, we see the dissonance between his mind and body. No longer is he connected to his free essence, he has become a series of parts that are operated by others.
This is where the film and Heidegger’s essay divert into two different paths. The film leads us to believe there is no coming back for Kable, his free essence forever damaged and beyond repair. The film poses this question of whether humanity can handle a technologically advanced society as a definitive yes or no, the conclusion of the film leading us to the answer that we cannot. The only way to preserve humanity according to the film is to complete destroy our connection to technology. Heidegger meanwhile believes that there is a middle ground, a way that we can appreciate the beauty of nature and connect with our humanity through technology. He argues that we must look at technology as an art form that makes it easier to apply the elements that make us inherently human. The film though sees art and technology as completely separate, communicated in the final scene as Kable, his wife, and daughter drive through the beautiful landscape, running away from the technological society that crippled them.