Film (2002). Pandora presents a Gaylord Films production. Directed by Vincenzo Natali. Written by Brian King. Cast includes Nigel Bennet, David Hewlett, Lucy Liu, Kate Matchett, Kristina Nicoll, Jeremy Northam and Timothy Webber. Colour. 95 minutes.
An Identity assumed for the purposes of corporate espionage reveals unlikely Hero "Morgan Sullivan" (Northam) to be the Secret Master of his own Godgame.
You may have been here before: long, white corridors leading to empty rooms; white-coated Scientists brandishing mind-control Drugs and Cybernetic headsets; high-tech Communications as a form of societal deception; Underground elevator shafts to unexplained Dimensions; and, not least, any number of allusions to sf's early affiliation with the depiction of Dystopias in Cinema, most often through the dramatization of oppressed lives in Cities. Director Vincenzo Natali clearly intends to call forth the atmosphere of Paranoia generated by surreal tv series The Prisoner (1967-1968), or to mine the tension generated by the fragmentary and intermittent Amnesia at the heart of John Frankenheimer's adaption of The Manchurian Candidate (1962), or to fast-pedal through such disorienting shifts in the comprehension of consensual reality as occur in the work of Philip K Dick (1928-1982), but seems more intent on including visual quotations from the filmography of Stanley Kubrick or from films such as The Conformist (1970), adapted by Bernardo Bertolucci from the anti-fascist novel Il conformista (1951) by Alberto Moravia, than on dramatizing the content of Brian King's screenplay.
Cypher's washed-out imagery and sketchily-delineated story deliver very little of the complexity of a cohesively-designed Alternate World in the manner of Genre SF, or that of an unacknowledged reality beneath the surface of everyday life as in many forms of Fabulation, or even that of the metaphoric commingling of Inner Space and Psychology common to the New Wave of science fiction. The surveillance gadgetry – pens, condiment-shakers, china animals and Computer files kept on compact discs – given to Morgan Sullivan/Sebastian Rooks by warring employers Digicorp and Sunway Systems fail to ignite as McGuffins due to muddled exposition and the extreme passivity of the film's protagonist: Cypher's efforts at creating a Kafkaesque atmosphere fail to appreciate how Franz Kafka (1883-1924) revealed a deeper (and more obvious) mode of Perception in which a few elements – a door, a room, an unseen castle amid the seeming emptiness of reality – are invested with greater Linguistic power by being divested from their ordinary meanings. Nor does Cypher succeed as Satire of the corporate lifestyle: the boredom and repressed power fantasies of the travelling salesman were more persuasively rendered in Fight Club (1999), adapted from Fight Club: A Novel (1996) by Chuck Palahniuk. Lead actors Lucy Liu and Jeremy Northam do their best to invest a slight script with more emotion than it merits but Cypher achieves neither the foreboding of dystopia nor the imaginative release of the Novum. [MD]