The Game (1997)

Directed by David Fincher

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In David Fincher’s The Game, a lonely, powerful control freak loses control.  He is Nicholas Van Orson (Michael Douglas), an investment banker who lives in a large mansion that only accentuates his isolation.  When one of his employees wishes him a happy 48th birthday, he implies to his assistant that he should fire her.  This just so happens to be the same age his father was when he jumped to his death off the large mansion in which Nicholas still resides.

Nicholas has little to offer people emotionally.  All that matters is that he makes others money, and the people who benefit from him financially, particularly those who work for him, seem only as nice as Nicholas is profitable.  In fact it’s Nicholas’ brother Conrad (Sean Penn) who shows up with no apparent strings attached.  When Nicholas asks what his slacker brother wants, Conrad insists nothing at all.  He does, however, want to give Nicholas a birthday present: the game.

“The Game” is something others whisper about, one of those things everyone knows about but no one talks about in the open.  It’s run by a large organization, CRS, and Conrad pitches his brother on how the game has changed his life.  Nicholas resists, understandably, but we are given more time to see just how lonely and isolated he is before he succumbs to curiosity.

After a long round of tests Nicholas will later be informed that his application has been rejected.  He feels spurned, no matter how apprehensive he was initially, but soon it becomes clear he is indeed involved in “the game,” the limits of which seem to have no bounds.

The Game is some combination of The Truman ShowSaw and The Adjustment Bureau.  Nicholas has no control over what happens to him, and it’s near impossible to distinguish reality from “the game.”  Passing cab drivers will try to kill him, a man will have an apparent heart attack and then be picked up by an ambulance which soon disappears without a trace.  Every single person he comes across, including his brother and the people who work for him, will give him reason to doubt them and his own reality.

I’m not sure if there is much logic to this movie, but that’s probably okay.  The Game is more about one man’s possible insanity and the feeling of losing control, of having no agency whatsoever when your entire life is built on such control.  It’s because the game seems to shine a light directly on what Nicholas truly needs, medicine for his ego, that it reminds me of Saw, as if the main characters’ sins have created a monster which has come back to roost.

The movie is a little long, to be sure, and at times it seems a little meandering as certain story beats become a little repetitive, insisting to us the things we already suspect, that everything and everyone is a part of this mysterious game.  Police will get involved, as will the suggested love interest, and it all leads to the “all is lost” moment in which Nicholas will throw himself off a ledge, just like his father.

But then a further reality reveals itself, one that feels a bit contrived but which is somehow both daring and wildly absurd.

Up Next: Primer (2004), Hold the Dark (2018), Katzelmacher (1969)

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