"Strange Days" Review - Reliving Death Memories
In 1995, the sight of the new millennium wasn't very encouraging in California. With only five years to go, it was evident that the pop-culture fantasy of a future of silver costumes, flying cars, and high-clean white cities wasn't going to be accomplished at all.
Instead, the end of the millennium showed a much more grounded and urban reality. The country was experiencing an increasingly bigger racial tension. The Rodney King incident, the L.A. riots, and the O.J. Simpson trial showed a nation more divided than ever.
With this context in mind, James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow--as good Californians residents--envisioned Strange Days as a dark sci-fi cautionary tale about the end of the millennium.
The protagonist of Strange Days is Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes), a former LAPD officer who now specializes in the black marketeer of SQUID recordings, an illegal and experimental electronic device that records and reproduces experiences directly from and to the user's cerebral cortex.
Thanks to the possibility of five-senses-experimenting with borrowed memories (positive and negative alike), the SQUID have been gaining a lot of underground popularity, becoming practically a new kind of addictive drug.
Lenny's ex-girlfriend is an ex-prostitute named Faith (Juliette Lewis), who has left him for underground music industry mogul Philo Gant (Michael Wincott). Following the covert assassination of community leader/rapper star Jeriko One at the hands of the LAPD that could involve a larger conspiracy led by Philo, Lenny fears for Faith's safety and decides to save her.
He then enlists the help of best friend/private investigator Max (Tom Sizemore) and bodyguard/limousine driver Mace (Angela Bassett).
Mace is the exact opposite of Faith: Strong, independent, a minority (Afro-descendant) and stoic. Mace is not a damsel in trouble but the necessary heroine. Her only weakness? Her love for Lenny.
As striking as the social criticism appears to be, Strange Days truly shine when it focuses on its love story. Mace is really the star of the film. She’s a single mother and a strong, independent woman who protects the "soft male" Lenny, who in turn is focused on saving his ex-girlfriend Faith, who doesn't love him. It's a strange and memorable reversal of gender roles, one that also takes note of the racial themes.
Unfortunately, this film ends up betraying itself, focusing on Lenny's pathetic and lame arc rather than Mace's most real, constructive and socially impactful struggle. Mace, even with her deep love for Lenny, knows that her priority should always be the civil rights of the exploited minorities.
The film wastes an exquisite Angela Bassett and gives the narrative reins to an "OK" Ralph Fiennes, in perhaps his last leading man role.
What's Your Rating For Strange Days?
One can dream. Maybe that was the plan of Cameron and Bigelow all along. Strange Days' recurring theme is that Lenny lives in the past, from ghost SQUID memories that should be naturally destined to fade. That frustration generated in the viewer by Lenny's stagnation ends up benefiting Bassett's character.
It's no coincidence, moreover, that Skunk Anansie, the band led by the awesome noisy, black, bald, and unconventional feminist Skin, whose story with the industry is somehow similar to Mace's, collaborated with TWO songs for the soundtrack, even having a cameo appearance in the climax scene.
Intentional or not, there's no doubt: the final product feels dispersed and at times unstable. But even with that big shortcoming, it's undeniable that Strange Days' gigantic personality has transmuted into a well-deserved cult film status.
And in this #BlackLivesMatters, President-elect-Trump's era, this cathartic tale about fearing the new millennium is more current than ever.
Sci-Fi Movie Details
Title: Strange Days
Release Year: 1995
Director(s): Kathryn Bigelow
Writer(s): James Cameron
Actors: Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett, Juliette Lewis, Tom Sizemore, a.o.
Runtime: 2 hours 25 minutes
© 2019 Sam Shepards