Feb 17, 2015

Spoilers ahead.

It’s not often that a scene from a movie gets stuck in my head. Over 20-plus years of watching movies, there have been only a handful of such instances. Keanu Reaves towards the end of The Matrix, holding up his hand and stopping bullets. Jim Carrey, standing at the edge of his known world in The Truman Show, struggling with doubt and the reassuring words uttered by the godlike voice emanating from the heavens. The “those aren’t mountains” scene from Interstellar. And the scene below, starting at 0:57.

The movie was better than I expected it to be. It surpassed my low expectations so much in fact that I felt compelled to go and read the trilogy, something I hadn’t done because most of the reviews on goodreads are by gals and because one of said reviews expressly said that the books were largely derivative of the Hunger Games trilogy. Having read and loved said trilogy, I didn’t see much point in reading a wannabee-pretender. And I really should have stuck to that decision, because man the books are bad. The author lacks the ability to bring any scene to life, plot development feels haphazard and forced, there are a bunch of glaring holes in the logic, and there are way too many poorly-written romance scenes that serve no purpose other than to presumably make the trilogy’s target fanbase wet.

Having said that, I’m really glad that the movie’s director chose to modify the plot and round it out a bit, to give the characters a bit more depth and to have the characters’ actions actually make sense. A primer for those of you who aren’t familiar with the basic premise of the movie. It’s a post-apocalyptic setting, the story takes place entirely inside one city that is fenced-off from the rest of the world. The people living inside the city have divided into five factions that define their characteristics and behavior according to which dominant trait they have: bravery, intelligence, candor, selflessness and hippiness. Most kids either join their parents’ faction or switch to a faction of their choice. This is possible because most people really do have one overwhelming trait that dominates any other traits they might have out of the remaining four. The protagonist, however, has three out of five traits in equal proportion, a phenomenon referred to as “divergence”. And the idea is that the leaders of the bravery faction and intellect faction are hunting down divergents because they don’t think or behave in a predictable fashion and hence cannot be manipulated or controlled.

One of the ways they detect divergence is by placing people in sticky situations inside a simulation and observing how they react, the catch being that people don’t know that they’re inside a simulation. Divergents are somehow aware that what they’re experiencing isn’t real and can therefore break the rules of the simulation to get themselves out of said sticky situation. So a person inside a simulation conjuring a gun out of thin air to shoot assailants or breaking unbreakable glass by just tapping on it lightly is definitely divergent. This is something that is expressly stated in the book and in the movie. The movie handles this intelligently, having the protagonist’s mentor ally with her and teach her how to think like the rest of the herd in order to fool observers overseeing her simulation. The book, on the other hand, completely ignores the premise it laid down and has the protagonist blithely breaking the rules of the simulation without any consequence. The author has definitely created an interesting world and a reasonably fresh premise, I just wish she’d then hired a ghost writer to flesh out the story itself instead of bumbling through it.

Anyway, the reason I wrote this post is mainly to talk about the video embedded above. A group of people whooping and jumping off a moving train, running down the street with wide grins on their faces, chasing after and boarding a different moving train. Plus the instrumental version of Woodkid’s Run Boy Run playing in the background. Perhaps the feeling stems from the urge to belong in a group, an urge that I believe is possessed by nearly every mammal on the planet. Or perhaps it’s the hunter-gatherer instinct at work, urging me to run after a fleeing antelope or something like that. Or maybe it’s none of those things. I’ve always been obsessed with parkour; Mirror’s Edge continues to be one of my favorite games of all time simply for the sheer bliss you get from pulling off a series of perfectly-executed jumps, vaults and rolls. At one point I even looked around to see if there were any free-running trainers in Bangalore (there aren’t any). For now, all I can do is run.