No Man’s Player One: The postmodern issue

Yep, that title was so damn easy to come by.

Last week I went to the cinema and chose to see the latest film from one of my idols, Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One. That was my first mistake. The second one was that I stayed throughout this 2 HOURS 20 MINUTES-long pile of puke-evoking, mind melting empty shell of a movie. I should have left the theater in the first 10 minutes. But no, I remained transfixed in my seat as the horrible images of chaos, nonsense and sheer stupidity flashed before my eyes. Alex from A Clockwork Orange had a better time during his rehabilitation treatment.

Not enough bleach in world

This movie – if anyone can even call it a movie – is an adaptation of a Young Adult fiction book by Ernest Cline. The story takes place in the not too distant future of 2045, where apparently everyone and their mother is active in the mother-of-all-MMORPGs, a hyper-massive game called the OASIS. In that game players can be anything they want, much like in most MMORPGs; so basically the movie should have been full of trolls and griefers ganking noobs in low-level servers (wait, that’s WoW, not the OASIS). In this muddled and convoluted heap of shit that poses as a story, the creator of this game died in 2040 and left the keys to his empire inside the game. In a nutshell, anyone who can solve three puzzles in the game will inherit the majority of the company’s stocks and become a zillionaire. Our hero, along with half of humanity, has been playing the game for over FIVE years straight, trying to find the keys and change his life forever.

Pretty straightforward story, right? One hero, one quest, some obstacles to overcome, a forced love story, initial trials culminating to the last mega-fight for the prize. Easy. Ready Player Done .

This would appear to be the case, had it not been for one small detail: This is a postmodern story, aka a form of metanarrative.

And this is what makes this movie a dumbster fire – this, and the attrocious CGI blur that is nowadays called Cinematography. Alas, poor Janusz, I knew him well.

Let us now disect the main issue of this flick, the meta-language. As Eco once said

“The postmodern reply to the modern consists of recognizing that the past, since it cannot really be destroyed, because its destruction leads to silence, must be revisited: but with irony, not innocently. I think of the postmodern attitude as that of a man who loves a very cultivated woman and knows that he cannot say to her ‘I love you madly’, because he knows that she knows (and that she knows he knows) that these words have already been written by Barbara Cartland. Still, there is a solution. He can say ‘As Barbara Cartland would put it, I love you madly’. At this point, having avoided false innocence, having said clearly that it is no longer possible to speak innocently, he will nevertheless have said what he wanted to say to the woman: that he loves her in an age of lost innocence. If the woman goes along with this, she will have received a declaration of love all the same. Neither of the two speakers will feel innocent, both will have accepted the challenge of the past, of the already said, which cannot be eliminated; both will consciously and with pleasure play the game of irony… But both will have succeeded, once again, in speaking of love.”
Eco, Umberto Reflections on The Name of the Rose; trans. William Weaver, London: Minerva, 1994, pp. 67-68

Postmodernism, by definition, is the narrative of a narrative. This literature movement utilises the pre-existing cognitive background of the reader/viewer to its fullest and attempts to reintroduce it to them in a new form. A reheated meal, served on a different plate. A key element of postmodern literature is the references: Known elements from previous stories are inserted in the new story, serving as triggers for the reader to evoke an emotional response. In our case with RPO the expected response would be that of nostalgia, more specifically nostalgia for the geek/nerd culture of the 80’s and 90’s. The movie is filled to the wazoo with references to video games, movies, music, hair style, fashion, slang and lifestyle of those decades.

As a student I wrote a paper on Eco’s The name of the rose, analyzing the postmodernist approach Eco used in this palimpsest of a story. Stylistic layers upon layers and genres upon genres are all compressed here to form a magnificent postmodern strata of a story, worthy of Doyle’s best mysteries. The end result of this Frankensteinian monster is arguably the greatest postmodern novel to this date. However, in this book Eco did not cover an aspect of postmodernism to such extend that we find in RPO: intertextuality. Sure, there are references to other stories and loans from other genres, but in its core the story is a crime story. Most of the references here are all about historical facts and religious history of the Middle Ages, while the more deep-cut references can be found on a linguistic level. This form of intertextuality is my main concern with all postmodern works of fiction. For the sake of recognition, the author sacrifices the story on the Altar of References.

This is soooo meta!

Here is where RPO goes off the rails in a hurry, by assaulting the viewer with so many RPMs  (References Per Minute) that it becomes impossible to follow the plot or -even worse- to actually get them all! From Chucky to Thriller to King Kong to Back to the Future to Alien to The Breakfast Club to Atari to Tron to even some current ones like Minecraft and Overwatch….I lost count, it all boils down to this:


Who is the target audience of this film?

It certainly isn’t the millennial crowd; who among them would give a flying fuck about Buckaroo Banzai, much less even know who that guy is!! If all the meta-elements are from the 80’s and 90’s because the creator of the game loved those decades – and somehow that affection/love/obsession was elevated beyond acceptable control to the main aspect of our story – millennials wouldn’t know any of that. I would. My age group, people who are between 35-40+ would understand those elements. Unfortunately for Cline, people close to my age would not be caught dead reading YA fiction. I would rather have my eyes gouged out with a rusty spoon instead of ever gazing upon books such as The Hunger Games, Mazerunner, Twilight (KILL IT WITH FIRE!!!). So who is going to watch this mess and enjoy it? Most likely the corporate suits that greenlit this piece of shit. I am willing to bet that even Spielberg himself said :  “How much are you giving me to direct only for just 15 minutes?? KA-CHING!!! You got yourselves a director!”.

He put his name on this atrocity, but I sure hope that he didn’t enjoy it nor likes what he helped to create.


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