Starring Ralph Fiennes, Angela Basset and Juliette Lewis, Kathryn Bigelow's 20-year-old, James Cameron-scripted, VR tech-noir is more relevant today than ever.
Set in LA in the dying hours of the 20th century, Strange Days follows ex-cop Lenny Nero, now a peddler of illegal, highly addictive, total immersion VR recordings. As he tells a prospective customer, "This is not like TV, only better. This is a piece of someone's life – straight from the cerebral cortex." When Nero inadvertently comes into possession of a blackjack (snuff film) recording of his friend's sadistic murder, his attempts to find her killer uncover a conspiracy that could bring down the whole city.
Underappreciated on release, it flopped at the box office but has since become a sought-after cinematic prize, not least for its technological prescience and bravura (Bigelow's POV Steadicam shots were groundbreaking at the time, helping her win a Saturn Award for Best Director), as well as its ongoing thematic relevance in everything from racism and police brutality to violence against women and voyeurism. Subsequent Best Director Oscars for both Bigelow and Cameron have also added to the film's cachet, as it remains the only big-screen collaboration between the former married couple. Also featuring Vincent D'Onofrio and Tom Sizemore, as well as live performances from Aphex Twin and Dee-Lite, Strange Days is difficult to find these days, making its MIFF screenings a rare opportunity to discover or rediscover this urgent cyperpunk classic.
"A tour de force … This is the first movie about virtual reality to deal in a challenging way with the implications of the technology." – Roger Ebert
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