Meaning out of Montage

Throughout Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s film Gamer disorienting, fragmented, and in many ways nonsensical montages are utilized – whether to quickly plant us (the audience) into the violent realism of ‘Slayer’s’ gamespace, plop them into the neon dreamscape of plastic-human fantasy that is ‘Society’, or simply accelerate our creation of Gamer’s diegetic world. While all of the frantic montages disrupted our perspective, often challenging – as Shaviro examines in his essay – our understanding of the portrayal of battle, video game interfaces, and environment design/representation, the motorbike escape montage when Trace first brings Kable/Tillman to humanz stood out to me for its impressionism and indirect storytelling.

Trace warns that “He’s not home, but Castle’s security will be, and trust me, you don’t want to meet them.” In the distance an ominous helicopter is heard, and we expect a chase scene to ensue, but instead we are thrown into a hectic conglomeration of hand-held shots of a sport bike flying through crowded hallways and dodging pedestrians, which achieved for me the effect of going through some 8-bit video game level at high speed (maybe this is what the tunnels Mario goes through are actually like?) or metaphorically traversing the infinitely complex (and crowded) network of cables and connections of the semi-anonymous internet. There’s also more to the escape than just avoiding the danger – it’s meaningful that Trace and Kable outmaneuver Castle (according to Shaviro “the ‘human face’… of affective capital in the society of control) to find haven in the revolutionary den (full of old arcade games!) of the humanz group, who seek to undermine that control, interestingly through manipulation, hacking, etc, (in conversation with the control system, breaking it down) rather than entirely undermining or rejecting it.

The montage, like most in the film, is hyper stimulation – what Shapiro calls post-continuity: “impressionistic,” “blurred confusion,” and manipulation of our reactions to the shots rather than the film having to show a coherent storyline to convey what is happening. As effectively participants this serves to give us a degree of control, of choice – or at least the illusion of choice – what we notice, what unsettles us, where we decide to allocate meaning or draw parallels to our own lives. The upsetting of expectation that I experienced when the chase wasn’t delivered action flick style is in a way peripetia, or at least demonstrates how Gamer as a genre film both perfectly follows the formulaic, and expected, twists and thrills of the genre while being laughably aware of itself. We anticipate the ending, at least that “good” will triumph over “evil,” that the family will be reunited and the control society toppled by exposing the true nature of the villain. These “conventional expectations,” as Kermode calls them, are defeated not in their not happening, but in their happening in an unexpected way – instead of the hero triumphing over his nemesis, Kable must acknowledge and beat the control system with its own commands – Castle, by envisioning Kable stabbing him (commanding him), kills himself, proving nanex to be both the problem and the solution.

Gamer’s montages, which rely, for their ability to tell a story rather than be a confusing, meaningless, in-your-face collage of “bosoms and bullets,” on our conventional expectations and ability to create meaning subjectively, demonstrate how our relationship to and complicity in consuming an action movie can frame what meaning we take from it. The film speaks volumes about our involvement in a media and entertainment-obsessed culture – how we are players in the way we frame things and form narratives about our lives but also those who are controlled by a potentially dangerous relationship with technology and a drastically consumption oriented society. Gamer, with its flatness, its uncaring, over the top, and in-your-face style, brings to light what in Heidegger’s language is an unfree relationship with technology arguably much more effectively than most works of either art, film, writing, etc, concerning our present technological state precisely because it isn’t striving towards grand meaning or morals; it’s a slaezy genre film that acquaints us with the revoltingly transparent, packaged “vomitorium” of our tech society: the grimacing face of the programmed but powerless avatar (extrapolated artfully in Gamer as real humans who can subtly display their disgust at their anonymous players’ online actions – take, for example, the elevator murders), bound by systems of flawed control, bound to consume, simulate, accept control, quietly pass judgement, and finally, create meaning. And if disgusted enough, determined enough, by the meaning (or lack thereof, perhaps) we find in these control systems we might become better players, and as Ludacris poetically says in Gamer, “evolve” the game.

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