“It the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.” – REM
That line perfectly sums up Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes), the hero of Kathryn Bigelow’s “Strange Days” (1995).
The title is not an exaggeration; the setting is the last few days of 1999 in a world gone mad; Los Angeles is essentially a police state, but since the whole world is a police state, no one really seems to notice.
Lenny is certainly not bothered by it; he’s content selling clips (first person memories that people can experience through some snazzy plot-device) and remembering the good old days with his ex-girlfriend Faith (Juliette Lewis).
His applecart is rudely upset when a friend of his, Iris (Brigitte Bako), is murdered, and the killer sends him a clip of her murder. In one of the more disturbing murder scenes in film history, the killer records the murder, but before she’s dead, he jacks Iris’s mind into his; basically, she’s experiencing her own rape and murder from her killer’s perspective.
Understandably, Lenny is a bit freaked out about that (he’s a loveable crook, but he doesn’t peddle the snuff clips), and with the help of his dear friend/protector Mace (Angela Bassett), he gets himself deeper and deeper into the dark side of an already frakked-up world.
The plot itself, and the resolutions, are really nothing extraordinary (or that surprising), but where “Strange Days” excels in is execution. It’s a primarily an action film, with some science fiction overtones, but really, Bigelow is an action film director, but she also has a good grip on storytelling. Yeah, we got some good chase sequences and some improbable escapes from death’s shadowy hand, but I actually gave a damn about Lenny and Mace and to an extent, Faith, and she was wise enough to let us get to know them while also putting them in peril.
Another area that’s unique to “Strange Days” is the clips. When the characters dive into other people’s memories, we go right with them, and the first person perspective is not overdone and it gives the film an intimacy that I wouldn’t have thought was possible. We get to see exactly why this technology would be illegal, and why there would such a thriving marketplace for it (hell, sign me up right up now!).
To paraphrase Lenny, it’s not a movie, only better; you’re in someone else’s skin, feeling what they feel, for better or for worse, an extension of what movies try to do. This is a movie that, while not quite as intimate as a clip, will stick with you, despite its shortcomings.
Yeah, the ending is a little long, a little predictable, but I’m happier seeing the ending coming rather than the shocking twist that makes no sense. “Strange Days” is quite a weird ride, but this alternative world makes for a thought-provoking visit.
“Strange Days” (1995)
Written by James Cameron and Jay Cocks
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Ralph Fiennes (Lenny Nero)
Angela Bassett (Mace)
Juliette Lewis (Faith)