Monday, September 30, 2013

Reading Other People's Minds

Dr. Michael Anthony Brace (Christopher Walken): Why do you have to die to let go?

Natalie Wood was finishing the movie "Brainstorm" when she died in November 1981.

As a result, much of the movie had to be rewritten and earlier footage had to be used.

It was, perhaps, inevitable that "Brainstorm" would be promoted in the media, when it was finally released 30 years ago today, as Natalie Wood's last film — even though the character she played was, at best, a supporting character.

The star was actually Christopher Walken, who was a hot box–office draw by that time, having appeared in some of the best movies of the '70s and early '80s ("Annie Hall," "The Deer Hunter," "Pennies From Heaven"). Walken was a scientist who experimented with a device that could read a person's thoughts and transfer them to video tape.

One of Walken's colleagues, Louise Fletcher, had a heart attack while by herself. Figuring (apparently correctly) that help could not reach her in time, she put the device on her head and allowed it to record the experience of her death.

When he tried to play back the recording of Fletcher's character's death, Walken's character nearly died as he realized that not only could the device record experiences visually but it could also make the viewer have the same physical experience the wearer had.

Kind of a twist on the old 3–D effect, wouldn't you say?

In the case of Fletcher's tape, that meant the viewer would experience the physical sensation of a heart attack.

Of course, there were other kinds of experiences that were candidates for abuse when committed to this futuristic tape. What was a brave new world in the early '80s has, in many ways, come to pass today.

In fact, I have often thought in recent years that it was practically prescient the way "Brainstorm" anticipated things like artificial intelligence and virtual experiences.

In the movie, one member of the research team had sex with his girlfriend while wearing the device. An older team member, seeking to re–capture his youth, got the tape that had been made and spliced the lovemaking segment to run continuously, nearly killing him.

Thus the potential for misuse/abuse of this technology was established.

I've been an admirer of Natalie Wood for a long time, and I was kind of sorry that this was her final movie. It isn't that I didn't care for the subject matter. On the contrary, I thought it was almost visionary, even at the time but certainly as the years have passed.

No, the thing I regretted was that Wood was a supporting character. Nothing wrong with that. I've known of many great actors and actresses who were supporting actors. But Wood was a leading lady. She always gave great performances, and sometimes they were in supporting roles, but she was mostly a star as an adult, yet she played Walken's estranged wife. Fletcher, as Walken's like–minded research colleague, had more of a presence in the film, as did Cliff Robertson as CEO of the research team.

Otherwise, it probably was an appropriate capper to Wood's career. She was too young to die, and the circumstances surrounding her death were as baffling as they come, but that fed into the plotline pretty well.

Of course, some of it had to be redone after Wood died, but I felt the writers deserved credit for, as they say in this part of the country, "making chicken salad out of chicken s**t."