Imagine you are the major character in an action movie. For decades, computer and video games have been posing this idea. First-person shooters put you in the hot seat as the story unfolds in front of you. Novels have used this point of view as well. It is an interesting approach.
While watching this movie, I had some insights I will put forward. However, before that I will quickly dispatch with the movie review.
The acting is adequate. Sharlto Copley, the main character other than the first-person “you”, does a wonderful job with many different roles. The direction, editing, and cinematography are well done, especially given the difficult task of shooting an action movie entirely in first-person. The score works very well.
The plot is thin. It is an action movie modeled after a video game. There is just enough plot to keep the action moving. It is all about the action. It is full throttle all the way through. Other than a brief moment during the antagonist’s monologue near the end of the movie, no heavy thinking is required.
The movie is also very monochromatic and misogynist. There is a primary female character, but she is more tool than person. Likewise, diverse ethnic qualities are not remotely considered. Remember the perspective – it is a guy-gamer movie.
It is R rated. A rating that should be followed when considering who should see it. Beyond the very violent action, there is a great deal of nudity.
This is well worth the ticket, though it is not for everyone. If you are a gamer, it is a must see. Moreover, you must see it on a big screen. I think if you wait for rental, a TV screen will make it feel too much like a game, and it may bog down. If you require a thick plot or something to make you think, with action only a secondary concern, this may not be your movie.
So there you have the review, a worthwhile viewing experience, now for a little observation.
I have played my fair share of video games, including some first-person shooters, starting with “Doom” and working my way to some of the big ones such as “Halo”. They certainly have become more creative and intricate over the years. Many consider them the future of storytelling. “Hardcore Henry” is certainly a step in the assertion.
For me, there has always been an odd feeling of disconnection when playing first-person shooters. I get the idea. You are observing the action in front of you. The limited scope of programming does not allow you to hear the imaginary world with any realism, a true 360 degrees of perception. It cannot let you feel the vibrations of the building or other environment to help clue you in to where things might come from. Often things seem appear in front of you as spook-house “boo” effects. This has an unnatural feel. It can be written off as a limitation in presentation, but I wonder if it is a result of the first-person style.
One human quality that helps to elevate us above other animals is our ability to mentally visualize. We visualize more than just things, like the room displayed in front of you in a first-person shooter. We have the ability to visualize ourselves within that setting. If someone gives you directions, you see images in your mind. You see yourself in some perspective allowing you to visualize the landmarks. You project yourself to those locations. Moreover, we have empathy and often use it to visualize ourselves in another person’s situation. This visualization may be emotional or physical or both. As we have experiences, we often have a sort of third-person overview playing along inside our minds, seeing our current situation from different angles, as well as different time perspectives. We play events forward for speculation, and project ourselves into that speculation, as well as projecting our connections or friends into that future to observe and calculate their viewpoints – to empathize.
A visual first-person presentation cannot display these types of projections and maintain its first-person perspective. To keep its point of view, it must always deal with the here-and-now. It must display only what is in front of the participant / viewer. Second and third person viewpoints, as well as omniscient presentations, have methods of alluding to our mental visualization ability. Shot reverse shot conversations can display empathy while still maintaining focus on the primary character. Lead shots can give hints to subtle environmental cues not representable through the medium. Filmmakers have devised methods to help the medium overcome its shortfalls. Ways of portraying the more fluid quality of the inner experience layered over an external experience.
First-person presentations, lacking the ability to display these inner flights of speculation and almost sixth-sense observations, generate a feeling of disconnection, at least for me. The intent is to place me right in the action, however the result is that is makes me feel even more like an observer than a participant.
In any form of storytelling, the end is a given. The author knows the end. The trick is to make the audience, whether it is the reader of a book or moviegoer, to feel like they came to the same conclusion on their own. That the audience arrives with the characters in time, place, as well as thought and growth. A first-person story has the same restriction – the end is fixed. However, lacking the ability to present inner thoughts of the main character – the speculation, empathy, and projections – the viewer may feel more carried to the end rather than arriving there as an active participant.
I am not suggesting this is a bad thing. It is a constraint that will take clever tricks for the presenters of first-person models to overcome.