September 10, 2018
Dystopic as it may be, Black Mirror is perhaps our most prescient fictional take on the future of technological progress. Its immediacy tends to make it particularly unsettling, and creator Charlie Brooker is about as maniacal and sadistic a show-runner as we've ever seen. This show is dark. Really dark. We feel it in the fabric of virtually every episode. So, among this anthology of society's potential futures, which installment is darkest? Spoilers ahead, obvs.
19) San Junipero
It's easy to have assumed that the only one with a true happy ending would win in the lightness category. Happy endings aside, San Junipero is bathed in sunlight and gives viewers stunning coastal vistas during all of the non-nighttime scenes. Plus an 80s motif is always a strong ingredient for good vibes, though maybe for some that's the cocaine talking. The episode feels like sci-fi Baywatch meets Sci-fi Saved By The Bell. And the futuristic technology aspect is pretty heartwarming too. Okay, happy fun time ends now.
18) Hang The DJ
One of several installations about the future of romance, this episode does a tremendous job maintaining tension in a context that is not naturally expected to be tense. But all that work is wiped away by the cheeseball ending, and the tension that had been accumulating evaporates as the episode becomes a muted version of what you probably expected; a predictable celebration of future Tinder, but without the trademark Black Mirror sadism. And there's bad TV sex. Maybe that's the darkest part.
17) The Entire History of You
A well-made episode with one significant flaw: it builds a story on a fascinating and realistic technology – an implanted memory recording system that allows people to PVR any experience they've had and watch it on a playback – and wastes that tech on a plot about domestic squabbles and petty jealousy. No one gets nearly as brutalized as they could have been, given what some episodes do to their heroes. The concluding message is that people fantasize about past lovers. You needed some fancy technology to tell you that?
16) The Waldo Moment
In the Trump era, this episode is easily criticized for being less interesting and less ridiculous than our current political reality. A crass, animated comedian bear gains popularity and becomes encouraged by the powers that be to run for office. We've seen similar concepts in fiction before, but more compellingly we've seen this in real life, most notably with John Gnarr, the uneducated comedian who served, rather successfully, as mayor of Reykjavik from 2010 to 2014. Sure there is something darkly comic about the plot of The Waldo Moment, but compared to reality it's a bedtime story.
This episode tends to lose people somewhere along the believability spectrum. Marie, An overprotective single mother, has her daughter Sara implanted with a device that allows her to monitor Sara's every move, and watch life through her eyes. I don't know if I buy the argument that no reasonable parent would do this, though the climactic scene, in which we see the normally intellectual and tempered Sara beating her mother half to death with her iPad, does feel hard to believe, even after she's discovered that her mother roofied her with morning after pills. The implications of the technology are somewhat unsettling, mostly because of the perceived intensification in helicopter parenting in real life, but the episode lets its viewers off the hook too easily. Nothing happens here that you couldn't see more vividly and less pleasantly in a Larry Clark or Harmony Korine film.
14) USS Callister
Jesse Plemons advances the narrative that he is rock solid at playing a creep. We first saw him as Todd, a dull-eyed, disassociated nice guy that unflinchingly murders women and children in Breaking Bad. Here he plays Robert, an executive programmer for a giant online video game with some nefarious at-home behavior within that same video game. The episode's darkness stems mostly from the recent emersion of the concept of incels, which became a well-known term after a terrorist attack in Toronto left ten people dead, all in the name of misogyny. Robert's character reads very much like an incel, making his behavior particularly off-putting, now more-so than at the time of the episode's release. But outside the incel narrative, the episode is mostly a fun romp, full of comic relief and Shatner-era Star Trek imagery, so the darkness factor is somewhat mitigated.
13) Shut Up and Dance
Black Mirror is pretty darn good at flipping the script on its viewers. Several episodes contain effective twists and turns that would make M Night Shyamalan's head spin. The so-called twist in this episode, however, is not one of the good ones. In fact it's appalling, and hard to understand as a writing decision. But without it, this episode would feel like an elaborate practical joke, which would work fine as an installment in the Black Mirror universe. So when you do find out that the episode is hinged on the fact that the teenage protagonist enjoys jacking off to child porn, you can't help but scratch your head.
This episode, in my opinion, suffers much more from the believability problem than Arkangel. A too-chill-for-his-own-good American traveler desperate for cash finds himself subject to some pretty gnarly cerebral experiments. The results are no bueno. Believability is a big deal in Black Mirror; every episode is a reflection on the potential future (or present) of how technology can royally fuck us, and this installment doesn't quite live up to the likelihood test (queue the "this shit has actually happened, man" comments). But to its credit, Playtest is legitimately scary. It's Black Mirror's most direct attempt at horror (along with maybe Metalhead, which we'll talk about later), and it's chillingly effective as a work of genre fiction.
11) Men Against Fire
Men Against Fire doesn't take itself seriously enough for what it's trying to sell. It's laden with clichés and big chunks of exposition in the last act that give viewers the impression that it really doesn't want to commit to the grim reality that it fictionalizes. The notion that soldiers are sometimes made to kill innocent civilians for political reasons beyond their control is not confined to fiction, let alone science fiction. Had the episode been framed with more heart and less schlock it could certainly have been one of the darkest.
Outstanding acting, writing, and directing make an episode with no killing, and no real threat of any violence, pretty goddamn ominous. Perhaps it's the juxtaposition of a setting well in the future with the ubiquity of social media that feel desperately close to our own that makes this episode so unsettling. In Nosedive, all of modern society relies on a social media platform where users are ranked based on their day-to-day interactions and the maintenance of their online profiles. Wait, isn't this supposed to be happening for real in China? It's a challenging plot because, like The Waldo episode, it doesn't sound all that shocking when compared to reality. But Rashida Jones' and Mike Schur's script is so tight, Bryce Dallas Howard's face so believably anguished despite her attempts to appear Instagram-happy, and Joe Wright's directing so lushly reflective of the impending future of social media, that it ends up being one of the series' best. And it leaves you, the viewer, in a state of crazed misery not dissimilar to the kind you might feel after an hour of relentless Instagram pleasure-cruising.
9) Hated in the Nation
This episode could have scored higher on this list if it didn't feel so procedural. Like seriously, how often do you feel genuinely tormented by an episode of CSI? The plot does have a significant enough creep factor, in terms of what it says about how public outrage and the increasingly popular act of public shaming are becoming dangerous forms of social currency. Here that currency has fatal results. Say that last line out loud. CSI-level cheese, right? Well, that's this episode. Robotic killer bees? Really?
8) Be Right Back
Widely considered the best episode of Black Mirror to date, Be Right Back is a haunting meta-ghost story and a sharp, dystopian reflection on love, death, and grief. Like Nosedive, it manages to get under the skin with hardly any violence or death (well, one death), but for entirely different reasons. The premise is simple and almost trite; Boy and girl are in love. Boy dies. Girl learns there is technology available that allows her to still communicate with him. And touch him, and see him, and have sex with him. Sounds great right? Charlie Brooker regularly demonstrates that he is just as adept at analyzing the nuances of modern romance as he is at predicting the most dystopic possibilities of technological progress. And that last scene is the kind of stuff Hitchcock would be proud of.
7) The National Anthem
The first, the original, the one where the Prime Minister of England fucks a pig on live TV. Imagine having never seen the show and being introduced to it like that. It's the audacity of a TV pilot to go there that makes this episode as impressively dark as it is. If this appeared in the third season it might have meant less, and the vulgarity of the premise would not have been as impactful. Less pearls would have been clutched, but less faces would have been twisted in voyeuristic delight.
6) Fifteen Million Merits
The most futuristic episode of Black Mirror, 15M Merits can be a difficult world-building pill to swallow. Bing, played exceptionally by Get Out's Daniel Kaluuya, lives in a sort-of digital world, where subjects earn merits in order to eventually perform in front of American Idol-style judges for a chance at greatness, and, we can only assume, digital transcendence of some kind. In this world, all is commodified and commercialized to an obscene degree, but it's so well directed that an episode with such a heavy requirement of suspension of disbelief becomes engrossing and all too immersive. The darkest part is that we may already be in that world now, repeating the endless drone of consumption and production for the corporate gods that lord over us. This is what The Singularity will actually look like, Ray.
5) The Black Museum
Everyone loves those clip-show episodes of The Simpsons right? Right? Just me? You know, I'm surprised they didn't do clip-show episodes of The Wire or The Sopranos. Well The Sopranos kinda did, with some of Tony's more extensive dream sequences. Anyways. This episode's pretty good, and filled with the sick shit that Black Mirror fans tend to expect. The image of Daniel Lapine staring at himself in the mirror after having just extracted some of his own teeth for pleasure is particularly gruesome. This is a longer episode, with three short stories injected into a pretty slick frame narrative. And though it's not exactly a clip show, there are all kinds of fun little references to previous Black Mirror episodes. Perhaps more importantly than the content of the episode itself is the reflection that this can be read as a representation of what will happen to Black Mirror once the show's fictional technologies become real, or even obsolete; we'll be left with a wax museum of obsolescence, and lord knows wax museums aren't creepy at all. Also worth noting, if you're a fan of 90's black comedies, this episode opens with a cinematographic and musical sequence that feels nearly identical to the intro to Oliver Stone's criminally underrated U-Turn, and that flick is dark as hell.
4) White Christmas
Like the episode that precedes it on this list, White Christmas is closer to feature length, and comprised of three short interlinked stories that are part of a larger frame narrative. Don Draper's charm is alive and well, and now he's in the future, selling digital clone versions of you that can be implanted into your head to micromanage your daily tasks from within. There are layers of darkness here, both in the frame narrative and in the individual stories. Not a fan of jealous exes killing the fathers of their former lovers? That's fine. Maybe you'll be more entertained by digital indefinite solitary confinement. If that sounds convoluted, well, it is, but it's still a pretty good episode, and remarkably bleak, especially given that it's a Christmas episode. Everyone loves Christmas. It's never a depressing time. Never.
3) White Bear
Perhaps the episode with the most staggering moment of script-flipping in all of Black Mirror's catalogue, White Bear will leave you feeling a little less than happy about the world. For the majority of the episode, something feels amiss. A woman wakes up in a house; she can't remember anything; a flashing TV in front of her displays an enigmatic, creepy icon. She runs; she is chased; her chasers appear armed and dangerous; there are people around, watching, recording with their phones, but they refuse to interact with her. Somehow she never actually gets hurt, despite the constant threat of harm from her hunters. The whole time, you can't help but think "Dang, this whole thing kind of feels like a game." And then they hit you with something so nasty you find it hard to believe. It must be part of the gag, right? Don't watch it on a bad day.
Ah the beautiful, terrorizing Metalhead. Odds are the terms DARPA or Boston Dynamics mean more to you now than they did three years ago, yeah? Well, if not, Google them while watching this episode. The shortest, simplest episode of Black Mirror is easily my favorite, and also happens to be the only episode where society is undeniably, completely fucked. It's a common thread these days to hear people extolling the potential dangers of robots and AI. Well, as you might have guessed, nothing is better at representing that anxiety than Black Mirror. Bella, played to her blood-soaked limits by Maxine Peake, runs across a wooded landscape, chased by a dog-sized robot that is hell-bent on killing her. Her post-apocalypse buddies had their brains blasted to bits by the little bastard early on. It made it look easy. The little robot dispatches people with such efficiency that it quickly becomes the most terrifying antagonist of the entire Black Mirror catalogue. While narratively simple, the episode is stylistically quite rich, shot in black and white and scored by the music of Kryszof Penderecki, whose compositions have appeared infamously in such films as The Exorcist and The Shining. Perhaps there's something to be said here about minimalism as a form of good storytelling. Several episodes of Black Mirror suffer from convolution, as is to be expected with a show that introduces new fictional technologies in every installment. The simplicity here allows the audience to really focus on the terror at hand. This makes for the most intense viewing experience you could ask for. And any release from this tension, once Bella finally, agonizingly dispatches Fido the robotic grim reaper, is crushed by the revelation that there are hundreds, thousands of these death-walkers combing the remaining wasteland that earth has become. Society is, in fact, fucked.
Was there any doubt? It would be a challenge to find anyone that wasn't shocked by this ghastly episode. Upon subsequent viewings, I've developed a feeling of ambivalence toward it. There are some bits to celebrate here: the austere vistas of a gorgeously grey and mountainous Iceland; the excellent acting of Andrea Riseborough and Kiran Sonia Sawar; the fairly prescient memory-recording technology on which the episode is hinged. But even after considering these pros, it's difficult to look at Crocodile as more than a deranged misfire. The escalation of violence and cruelty in this episode is so brutal that it becomes nearly unwatchable, even with the majority of the violence occurring off-screen. It might have been more acceptable if it made more sense in terms of character motivation. But Andrea Riseborough's Mia makes decisions that no reasonable person would make, deep dark secrets or not. We're supposed to accept that Mia's mind slowly becomes unraveled as guilt and paranoia consume her, but one episode of TV is not enough time to adequately sell this line and the violence that ensues. The darkness here really has nothing to do with the technological implications; it's purely about the brutality inflicted on the episode's innocent victims, one of which is an infant. I would never expect a TV show to use trigger warnings, but this is one of those rare occasions where it feels irresponsible not to.
In August, there was a brief moment where a tiny percentage of boxing analysts and a decent percentage of ordinary people believed that the greatest boxer of the last 20 years would lose to a man who had never participated in the sport professionally. Conor McGregor had thrown reasonably hard punches at Floyd Mayweather for three rounds and had actually landed a few legitimate shots, an accomplishment in and of itself, some might think. But when the dust settled on Mayweather v. McGregor, which was, if nothing else, one of the grandest spectacles we had ever seen in sports promotion history, the narrative had concluded in exactly the way we had expected. Whether Mayweather v. McGregor was a good fight or not is unimportant in terms of how we consider its place among boxing's most significant moments; it reinforced resoundingly the notion that promotions, not styles, make fights.
But megaevent that it was, Mayweather v. McGregor could not overshadow the fact that 2017 was a marquee year for boxing, a much needed year in a time when fans constantly lament the good ol' days of previous eras. For every casual fan that showed excitement at the prospect of Mayweather v. McGregor actually happening, there would be a boxing fan forced to look at the other offerings across the landscape. One didn't have to look far to find what all boxing insiders agreed was the real main event of the year - Gennady Golovkin's unification middleweight bout with Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, scheduled three weeks after Mayweather v. McGregor.
Golovkin v. Canelo delivered on its hype's promise. Several rounds, particularly the 10th and 12th, were barn burners. The fight also delivered on the intensity of the weight it carried. When larger-than-life competitors step into high-stakes fights, there is an electricity in the air so pervasive that observers can feel it in their bones. It's the incomparable feeling of what happens when athletic greatness meets violence. That feeling persisted for every minute of Golovkin v. Canelo. This turned out to be important because it was nearly undone by the shocking result; a split draw, which contained a baffling scorecard of 118-110 for Canelo, despite the sense that Golovkin had won (Harold Lederman had him up 116-112, a sensible score). Boxing fans were left ambivalent, riveted by a great fight and unsatisfied by a decision that stunk of corruption or incompetence.
Other than unifying the middleweight crown, Golovkin v. Canelo was supposed to provide an answer to the pound for pound question, which the draw prevented. After Floyd Mayweather's retirement, the question of who deserved the title of pound for pound king was up in the air. 2017 played out like an opera premised on this very question. Many boxing insiders considered Nicaraguan flyweight Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzales to have been the deserving heir to the throne for the last two years, a man as dynamic and devastating as a boxing fan could hope, encumbered only by his weight class, which tends to receive little fanfare. Chocolatito entered 2017 with a record of 46-0, and met relatively unknown Thai brawler Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in what would turn out to be one of the fights of the year. Sor Rungvisai won a razor-thin majority decision, with which some ringside observers disagreed, and which also disrupted Chocolatito's pound for pound status. Six months later Sor Rungvisai violently obliterated any question of Chocolatito's pound for pound status by knocking him out in the 4th round of their rematch.
The other de facto pound for pound king coming into 2017 was Andre Ward. Entering the year with a decision victory over menacing Russian power puncher Sergei Kovalev should have made Ward's status a forgone conclusion, but in some ways the jury was still out. Ward's first victory over Kovalev was hotly disputed by many ringside observers and fans who felt Kovalev had deserved the nod. Ward was also burdened by the legacy of his previous inactivity; he fought once in 2013, and then not again until he fought only once in 2015. Though he fought three times in 2016 before meeting Kovalev, two of those opponents, Alexander Brand and Paul Smith, were well overmatched. Fans were reasonably frustrated with Ward before he met Kovalev in 2016 in what turned out to be a brilliant, intense fight, filled with the type of drama and ferocity that we hope for in championship fights. But the controversy of the decision kept frustrations alive, and so when Ward and Kovalev met again in June 2017, fans craved catharsis. But the quest for catharsis would remain stifled. Ward boxed very well against the stalking Kovalev, and the first 7 rounds were close. Ward had landed more than one punch on the belt line, and Kovalev reacted as if low-blowed each time it happened. In the 8th Ward landed a huge straight right, and as Kovalev was staggering around the ring, Ward threw several body shots, a few of which looked like they could have been low. Ward pummelled Kovalev on the ropes with belt-line shots and referee Tony Weeks called a stop to the fight. Ward had won, but the question of the low blows left a bad taste in the mouths of some fans. And then Ward retired. Maybe fans breathed a sigh of relief; they no longer had to worry about the validity of Ward's pound for pound claim. He took himself out of the conversation, albeit abruptly, capping off a brilliant career and exiting the sport with a perfect record and an unforgettable legacy.
Ward's wasn't the only high profile retirement of the year. Perpetual welterweight star Juan Manuel Marquez announced that he would hang up the gloves, a dignified decision that wasn't predicated on the pretense of a swan-song fight that would ultimately prove lacklustre or irrelevant to his legacy, as so many previous fighters have done. Miguel Cotto called it a day as well, and though he did chose to engage in a final bout against a lesser-known opponent in Sadam Ali, the fight proved to be excellent, a nonstop source of action, which was made better by the fact that Ali won a major upset, which validated the relevance of the fight for him, and yet didn't tarnish the great Cotto's legacy one bit. Cotto fought half the fight with a torn bicep, but when Max Kellerman mentioned it in the post-fight interview, Cotto's instinct was to say "I don't want to make excuses, he beat me," rather than fixate on the injury. Cotto retired as he had always fought, with great dignity. Timothy Bradley also decided to retire. His last fight had been the rubber match loss to Manny Pacquiao in 2016, and so he decided this year that there was nowhere left for him go in the ring, and he will now embark on a post-fight career as a commentator. Speaking of Pacquiao, this was perhaps the year upon which fight fans will look back and say he really should have retired along with his previously vanquished opponents Bradley, Cotto, and Marquez. He fought once, and lost, to Australian former school teacher Jeff Horn via unanimous decision. The result was considered highly controversial, and even resulted in a formal request from the Philippine Games and Amusements board of the WBO to rescore the fight, which still resulted in a Horn victory. When Pacquiao fights lesser opponents, he gains nothing. Either he scores mildly significant wins against overmatched fighters like Chris Algieri or Brandon Rios, or he suffers insurmountable blows to his record and reputation, controversy or not. If Pacquiao is at a point where he is unable to make fights against major opponents because his skill and status are diminished, then his time has probably come. His legacy will always be one of greatness, though his political ambition may be the catalyst in his eventual exit from the sport. The rumour is that he is preparing to run for president of The Philippines.
Perhaps the most significant retirement from the sport was that of Wladimir Klitschko. The former perennial heavyweight champion fought to reclaim his belts against England's Anthony Joshua in what was to be the best heavyweight title bout in 14 years, reminding us of when Wladimir's older brother Vitali lost to cuts in a classic dragout bloodbath against Lennox Lewis. Wladimir and Joshua squared off in front of 90,000 fans at Wembley Stadium, and delivered to the nth degree. Both men, terrifying giants, built like superheroes, threw power punches with murderous intent. Both fighters scored knockdowns; the drama was as high as one could have hoped. Ultimately it was the young champion Joshua who scored the 11th round TKO, prompting Klitschko to announce his retirement. Despite the loss, Klitschko had fought very well in a classic heavyweight bout for the ages, arguably the most compelling fight of his career. And despite criticisms he's had to endure over the years as the kingpin of a lousy heavyweight era, and of his own episodes of underperformance (last year's dreadful snoozefest loss to Tyson Fury comes to mind), Klitschko has been a remarkable champion, with the longest heavyweight title reign after Joe Louis.
Anthony Joshua is now one of the two (or three if you count Fury) representatives of a hopefully resurgent heavyweight division. The other is Alabama's Deontay Wilder, a fighter of equally awe-inspiring physicality and power. The division will need a showdown between the two men, but if we can allow 2017 to be a marker of the direction in which the sport is going, necessary fights like Wilder v. Joshua will happen. The welterweight division experienced a similar reveal of two new dichotomous forces that will hopefully clash. Undefeated boxer-puncher Keith Thurman delivered the karma we'd been pining for to irreverent trainer and hilarious loudmouth Angel Garcia, by beating his son, the also previously undefeated Danny Garcia. Thurman now makes his claim as a pound for pound contender while on a collision course with the division's other new force, Terence Crawford. To be clear, Crawford has yet to fight at welterweight, but after cleaning out the light-welterweight division emphatically, he will be competing at 147 next year as another top pound for pound prospect who some consider the best overall fighter in all of boxing. Errol Spence is also looming just behind Thurman and Crawford, and could spoil the party for both men. Middleweight also has some bright faces just behind champions Golovkin and Canelo. Billy Joe Saunders made a statement when he lit up Quebec's David Lemieux in a lob-sided unanimous decision victory. Saunders is himself undefeated and fights with a showy technical wizardry that could certainly give Golovkin and Canelo problems. Danny Jacobs is another middleweight on the rise, despite having already achieved so much, and despite the fact that his most important fight this year was a loss to Golovkin. In that fight he looked tremendous, and took Golovkin the distance, something no one has ever done in a 12 round fight, only to lose by a hair. It's rare when a loss can boost a fighter's status, but the consensus was that Jacobs' bout with Golovkin proved that he is among the very best in the division and could be a future champion.
Perhaps among all the fighters who gave compelling accounts of themselves in 2017 none did so more stunningly than Ukrainian super featherweight Vasyl Lomachenko. HBO's Max Kellerman has been singing the praises of Lomachenko since before he turned pro in 2013, with consistent reminders that he is the most accomplished amateur boxer in history and that he is destined for long-term greatness. Over the course of the year, if you payed attention to the peripheral tidbits that accompanied fights, you would have probably heard stories about how Anatoly Lomachenko, Vasyl's trainer and father, forced his son to take four years of ballet as a child so that he could learn footwork and balance precise enough for boxing. When one observes Lomachenko now as he out-maneuvers opponents so swiftly that they are virtually incapable of landing a punch against him, the story about the ballet years reads like the coaching genius we only see in the movies. But Lomachenko's prowess in the ring looks like it could only be a thing of fiction; real fighters are not supposed to be this dominant. Lomachenko fought three times in 2017, most notably against fellow two-time olympic gold medalist and defensive wizard Guillermo Rigondeaux, who moved up two weight classes to fight Loma. All of Lomachenko's opponents this year quit mid-way through their respective fights, which prompted him at the end of the Rigondeaux bout to adorn himself the nickname "No-mas Chenko," perhaps the greatest self-appointed nickname of all time. Lomachenko has not reached his prime yet, and enters 2018 as the the most deserving claimant of the pound for pound kingship of boxing.
Anyone who regularly observes boxing is likely to hear the term "war of attrition" from time to time, in reference to particularly gruelling slugfests where both fighters are too tough to lose, and so they can only attempt to break each other's bodies over the course of the fight. Boxing fans have been undergoing their own battle of attrition for the last several years with the promoters and networks that run the sport. For several years we have struggled to find excitement in the mediocre matchmaking and promoter duels that prevented the best possible match-ups from becoming reality. It had felt for too long that top fighters were being protected from one another, under the pretense that a top fighter is worth more money undefeated, and that irrelevant superfights like Mayweather v. Pacquiao or spectacles like Mayweather v. McGregor were signs of the neoliberal future of boxing. But the story changed in 2017, which saw more marquee matchups, great fights, and high drama than I can recall in recent memory. The Mayweather v. McGregor shenanigans did not, ultimately, dominate the narrative; what it might have done instead was turn a few more sets of eyes towards boxing. If the casual sports fan chose 2017 to start paying more attention to boxing, they could not have asked for a better, bloodier, more dramatic year in which to become a fan.
They let me out to see a picture
Memories are personhood. Or so the programming of a replicant would have you believe. A wooden horse. A fire. An industrial, steel-hued, future-washed MC Escher painting. Your mother. My Mother? Snapshots. They make sense, as implants. As things at once injected, probably plucked from algorithms set by Dr. Ana Stelline. What about us, the humans? Our memories have developed through organic processes over which we have little control. But sometimes, a flicker of a memory, or a deju vu, may feel like it holds a part of the puzzle, one of the keys to that locked room, the inexplicable, transcendent real. Proust's madeleine. Child Ryan Gosling holding a wooden horse. A Unicorn running through the forest in a dream.
I seethed the moment they announced Blade Runner was getting a sequel. It was the most egregious sequel or remake that Hollywood could force down our throats, mostly because of the polarizing beauty and unique marvels of the original. Oh Denis Villeneuve is directing it? BIG DEAL. I'm supposed to give a shit you got a competent director? Wellllll, turns out they actually, finally made a sequel that was worthy of being made. 2049 is a beautiful, menacing, challenging film, one that I will watch into the future. Not only is it a thoroughly enjoyable viewing experience unto itself, but it adds new weight to the original. The plot appears to be simple; K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant Blade Runner whose job it is to retire rogue replicants (like Deckard in the original) discovers a haunting relic at the site of a mission; a box, buried near a tree, which contains the bones of a replicant woman, and her remains bear the sure signs that she had been pregnant. Fear that such a discovery could fuel another catastrophic replicant rebellion, K is tasked with finding the child born of the dead replicant and "retiring" it. Another layer - The deceased pregnant replicant was Rachel (Sean Young from the original Blade Runner, Deckard's not-so-self-aware love interest). Worlds unfold. I'll leave the rest to you.
This film is much bigger than the trajectory of its plot, which makes it better than 97% of what Hollywood pumps out. The film has its flaws, certainly. Jared Leto's blind industrialist Niander Wallace is criminally under-explored. Women feel pretty one dimensional here compared to the men. But that sense of depth that the film leaves you with, whether it's real or an implanted feeling injected into our memory systems, it makes you want to consider your own personhood. Could we all be replicants? Are my memories real? Is that one flash from my childhood holding the key to some traumatic mystery that I can't access? Any work of art that makes you contemplate the philosophies behind your existence in this dank pit is a success.
I spent about 25 minutes analyzing the song titles on this record as I was listening to it. Scanning titles such as "I Am a Thought," "I Am Consumed," "I Am Learning," and "Who I Am & Why I Am Where I Am," rendered me confused and dumb, but upon a second listen those titles made perfect sense. A coalescence of sonic universes occurs in her left nostril, you can see it there on the album cover, where sensory barriers breakdown, and you enter her aural (ha) domain. Something like cosmic sonic warmth would be a good term to describe the tone of this album. The stars surround you as you listen. Sometimes you feel like you are in outer space. But like, not actual outer space, because there is only silence there. And your head would explode, I think. Or implode. Where's Neil DeGrasse Tyson when you need him? But more like metaphorical outer space. Like the aesthetic of outer space. Sometimes it sounds like you are in a moist indoor zoo pavilion and exotic birds are chirping above you. I listened to this five times in a row yesterday, and I am excited to listen again tomorrow. There are hidden things, sounds and otherwise, buried in every nook and cranny of this record. It's like going on a cosmic easter egg hunt, stoned as hell. Her voice is like a hypnotist that invigorates you rather than charms you to sleep. It is the voice of 2017.
In "Burden of Dreams," the making-of documentary that tries its best to explain what everyone's favorite nihilist was thinking when he made the psychotically ambitious "Fitzcarraldo", a young Werner Herzog gives us the pickle tickle as he waxes on about how goddamn fucking miserable the jungle is. "Nature here is vile and base... of course there is a lot of misery... but it is the same misery that is all around us... the trees here are in misery," ... well shit, better cancel my my trip to the amazon. This is the sample, re-tuned with some distorted heavy duty basso profundo modulation, with which Full Of Hell open Trumpeting Ecstasy. Nowadays, Werner Herzog is a mascot for the pseudo-nihility we all feel when we contemplate the pit, and I'll be damned if we don't all see how funny his schtick is. Full Of Hell tap into something important here. Where previous albums, most notably 2013's Rudiments of Mutilation, took themselves immensely seriously, and to listen to Rudiments is to believe that the world is burning and dying around you, here we have something different; a sliver, a microscopic glimpse of the tongue shoved into the cheek. Hence the Werner at the top of track one to roll out the ash-colored carpet. Oh yeah, the album is rocking good. It's fucking heavy, technically baffling yet still accessible, lightening fast (everyone says "blistering" these days, ugh) grind fused with bits of death metal and a few moments of noise, though there is less experimental work here than on previous outings. Full Of Hell are doing their thing once again, claiming their crown, sitting atop heavy music's pile of skulls. Cool cameo by Nicole Dollanganger on the title track. Misery, all around us.
This album is from 2016, but they have forced me to review it. They play it non-stop, sometimes at an ever-so-faint, creeping volume, where I can just hear the razor-tightening of the cables in the walls; sometimes they play it so loud that my eardrums are crushed and my eyes bleed. Do you remember the first time you saw a David Lynch film? Do you remember the feeling? Do you remember the first time you saw a film by someone trying to imitate Lynch, and you learned to spot the difference between real weird and imitation weird? The difference is that real weird is beautiful; it enchants you as it mystifies you. Puce Mary's The Spiral is exactly that. You can feel yourself running from the predatory creature that stalks you down the alley in the dead of night. You can feel the bolus of saliva tighten in your throat as the razorblade approaches your eyeball. You can feel the dead beneath your feet laughing at you as you walk on their graves. That is The Spiral, a weird, beautiful act of terror forced upon your ears and your frontal lobe. Though it is a languishing slow burn, and its putrid black ambiance tingles subtly and hits you harder over time, every single note, every single strange noise has clearly been chosen with absolute intention. This is noise music, reimagined for the doomsday era. Maybe they'll stop playing it soon. I can only dread what they will switch to.