June 20, 2006
Come On, Make Me Work
Encouraged by Matt’s post, I saw Brick on Saturday night. Man oh man. What a perfect movie. Everything about it is great: the acting, the look, the mood, the style… even the shocking post-theater reminder that it was all done on a shoestring. The movie has a gravity and wholeness that suggests it will still be totally watchable in five years, or fifty.
But my favorite thing about Brick is the fact that it makes you work. Not work in a kind of loopy art-school way, but rather, you’ve simply got to keep your brain spinning as you watch it. No cinema-induced coma here. You’ve got to constantly process what’s going on — from the super-fast, super-stylized patter to the byzantine plotting — to keep in step with the movie. Revelations don’t thud into your lap; they sneak in the back door.
And the laughs are all so well-constructed and well-earned: There is not a single cheap one in this entire movie.
I think so many critics read it as a film-geek stunt (e.g.) because, well, they’re film geeks. My non-film-geek verdict is A++ would watch again. In five years or fifty.
So I’ve also been playing a computer game this week — Half-Life 2, a couple years old now, but still regarded as the high-water mark for first-person shooters.
(For the record I realize that writing about the wonders of Half-Life 2 at this point is a lot like raving about, like, how great those Lord of the Rings movies are. But please, permit me.)
Like Brick, Half-Life 2 makes you work. And it’s not just the obvious sneaking and shooting and solving. The story begins in media res — you’re on a train pulling into a grim, gray Orwellian city. You have no idea what’s going on. And it proceeds like that: The story is revealed in scraps, experienced through snatches of conversation, errant TV broadcasts, and voices in the distance. And I mean seriously: They are small scraps.
What’s brilliant is that the character you’re playing — Gordon Freeman, a sort of commando physicist — is regarded by all the others as supremely capable: You’re the one with all the answers. (Also: You are silent throughout the game. That’s important.) As a player, I found myself often wishing a different character would take the lead, because I was so confused — or freaked out. No such luck.
The result is entirely positive, though. You quickly begin to inhabit the character; it’s the closest I’ve come to feeling like I was “role-playing” in any game, ever, and it’s entirely because Half-Life 2 makes you meet it, erm, halfway.