What if fleeing is no longer a solution?
We all want to leave. Some more, others less, but everyone knows the urge to escape. From suffering or boredom. At some point we all want to get out. From marriage, gambling addiction, debt. Some have to flee from war, others are allowed to escape into virtual realities.
We want to go to the past and the future like Marty McFly or Doctor Who. And when we mess up, when our lies are exposed, we want to sink into the ground,as they say.
But what if the whole planet is scrap? What if all of humanity has failed? What if the 1980s or Europe or the Earth’s interior or virtual realities no longer work as places of escape?
Dystopia from the kit
Then we want to go to the Moon or Venus or Mars. David Bowie wanted that. Nasa wants that. Elon Musk wants that. Restart. Into space, first with a few adventurers, then form whole colonies. As if it were easier there.
In” Ready Player One, ” the new film by Steven Spielberg based on the novel of the same name by Ernest Cline, and eagerly awaited by millions of fans for years, everything is a single escape.
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The film takes place in the year 2045, it makes the arc future to be able to draw the problems of the present more dramatically. Dystopia by construction kit: It is gloomy, it smokes, poverty, climate catastrophes, lack of raw materials, overcrowded cities with huge screens, and separately a few rich powerful people are enthroned.
The warning message to moviegoers is unmistakable and as smooth as most criticisms of capitalism. You know them from “Metropolis”, “1984”, “Blade Runner” and “Black Mirror”: if you continue like this now, hell awaits you soon.
“Reality is crap,” says Wade Watts, the protagonist in” Ready Player One, ” an orphaned teenager who lives in a vertical trailer park in Columbus, Ohio. And because reality is crap, Wade (played by Tye Sheridan) and the vast majority of Americans in 2045 escape every day into a virtual reality called Oasis. Using VR suits, VR gloves and VR glasses, you can do whatever you want in the artificial worlds of the Oasis, you surf, fight, data, study.
And even better: they can be anything-woman, man, monster, Super Mario, Lara Croft. The Oasis wants to be not only gender fluid, but also species fluid. Batman today, samurai tomorrow. “A world where the limit of reality is your own fantasy,” as Watts initially enthuses. The Oasis is so spectacular that players can displace their miserable existence outside of VR for hours.
This mega-simulation was invented by James Halliday. A touching nerd and ingenious inventor, more ingenious than Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates combined, who is fond of video games and does not know how to approach women. Because Halliday feels alien to the old world, he creates the new Oasis.
And because he is also a fan of the pop culture of the eighties, you have to imagine this virtual universe like a theme park of his sheltered childhood. To the music of Depeche Mode, A-ha and New Order, the avatars curve around with the DeLorean sports car from “Back to the Future”, through the legs of Mechagodzilla and King Kong, and collect points. Everything as it was then, in front of the Atari in the nursery, only louder, faster, more bombastic, more real.
Usually it goes like this: a book is written, then sold, then become a bestseller, until one of the film studios finally acquires the rights to the fabric. In this case, the book was not yet on the market, since Warner Bros had already secured the film rights to “Ready Player One”. This is all the more remarkable because it was Ernest Cline’s debut novel. Apparently, a whole generation, at least one, was waiting for this work.
Pop culture for advanced students
Cline was born in Ohio in 1972. All the references he throws around in the book are his lived ones. The video games, the science fiction movies, synth pop and new wave. He stares and gambles and listens, absorbs all niche knowledge.
When Cline is twelve years old, the film “Revenge of the Nerds” comes into the cinemas, in Germany under the title “Die Rache der Eierköpfe”. There computer geeks and football players fight each other, it is the antagonism of many US teen comedies: glasses against muscles. “We have news for the beautiful people out there: there are more of our kind than you,” Lewis says before leading the nerd revolt.
And “Ready Player One” feels a bit like the revenge of the eggheads. Those who are not familiar with the pop culture of the eighties have less fun in the cinema. At least these days you can see that the audience laughs the loudest when the smallest scraps of nostalgia flash on the screen.
And the more often you laugh-sometimes even a very confident nod is enough-the more obvious the expertise. Everyone can crawl into the decade of their longing: the writer Cline, the Oasis inventor Halliday, Watts, the hero of “Ready Player One”. And the hardest nerds of 2018 will definitely want to see the movie three or four times, so as not to miss a single reference.
But, of course, the Oasis does not solve the problems of the inhabitants of Columbus, Ohio. The virtual game worlds create new hierarchies, envy and aggression. The Oasis may be distracting, but it doesn’t make you happy. This is also recognized by Halliday, the”Creator who hates his creation.”
Before he dies, he hides an Easter Egg, so called special treasures in gamer language, in the Oasis. Whoever finds the Easter egg inherits Halliday’s billion-dollar fortune and takes control of the game, including the delete function. And here too: If you have bizarre geek knowledge, you are the better egg hunter. The revenge of the eggheads.
Because Watts, who acts as Parzival in virtual reality, is one of the best players, he is pursued by the super-capitalist corporation IOI and its unscrupulous boss Nolan Sorrento (played by Ben Mendelsohn). Everyone wants the top prize, especially the bad guys. In the middle of the treasure hunt, a rather banal love story unfolds between Parzival and another avatar, Art3mis, or between the two teens behind the figures.
If you find musicals terrible, you have to close your eyes for a moment, but then the big battle begins, a medley of Mad Max and Tekken. The special effects of films such as” Ready Player One ” are now so standardized – and at the same time overwhelming – that they are hardly special anymore. But great: Parzival and Art3mis both look, with their colorful manes, like alter egos of David Bowie, and in short you wish for “Life on Mars” much more than Depeche Mode.
In the end,” Ready Player One ” is above all an action movie. Unlike the book, which may be more exhausting, because an even wilder orgy of references, but certainly also more socially critical. In Cline’s novel, the actually interesting question of how to save civilization is negotiated. Fighting poverty and climate change on Earth? Or move on to other planets?
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The Silicon Valley class has long since decided. Starting next year, Tesla founder Elon Musk wants to explore Mars. “If there is a Third World War, then we should make sure that there is enough human civilization elsewhere to bring it back and shorten the dark age,” Musk enthused a few weeks ago.
Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway have also experienced something similar in the Christopher Nolan blockbuster “Interstellar”. A few years ago, Nasa introduced a concept that allows people to live on Venus in floating cities. In mid-April, the probe “TESS”, affectionately called “planet hunter” by Nasa, will be launched into space.
Nasa’s planet hunter and the egg hunter in “Ready Player One” ignore the same dilemma: Earth is not the problem. It is their inhabitants.