When I grew up in Hungary the celebrity culture was much less pervasive and aggressive than it is now. One of the first time I heard or paid attention to a filmstar was when my grandmother, a journalist working for a women’s weekly was excited and upset about the mysterious death of a movie star. The circumstances of her death were fascinating to my 13 year old self: falling of a boat in the ocean in an intoxicated state. I also remembered the name of the actress although I did not recall seeing her in anything: Natalie Wood.
After I just watched the last movie she worked on I read up a bit on her. Turns out she didn’t even have a chance to finish all her scenes for Brainstorm, for some scenes a look and sound-alike was used. But enough about the people in and behind the movie. Let’s focus on the technology as most of the film seems to be doing. It was made in 1983, when my father was working at an Apple store in Oakland and discovered the power of modems. The same year I was learning how to use punchcards on antiquated Soviet computers in high school. Compared to my experience at the time the movie would have been truly futuristic, but compared to my father’s I am less sure. However looking back from what we have now, 29 years later, it is so simplistic. That’s the danger of putting tech first into a sci-fi movie It is bound to look stupid a few years later.
I can’t and should not accuse this movie of having tech for tech’s sake, because it had plenty of interesting ideas too. But they were overshadowed for me by the presence and effects of gadgets. The title is misleading though. It is less about turning brainwaves into brainstorms and more about the consequences of surfing on other people’s brainwaves.
Having said all of the above, I still enjoyed the movie despite that its logic was tangled and the viewer had to work on it to figure out the sequences and causalities. It had intriguing concepts, good acting (e.g.Christopher Walken) , and a fascinating insight into the future that didn’t happen (yet).
IMDB’s summary: Brilliant researchers Lillian Reynolds and Michael Brace have developed a system of recording and playing back actual experiences of people. Once the capability of tapping into “higher brain functions” is added in, and you can literally jump into someone else’s head and play back recordings of what he or she was thinking, feeling, seeing, etc., at the time of the recording, the applications for the project quickly spiral out of control. While Michael Brace uses the system to become close again to Karen Brace, his estranged wife who also works on the project, others start abusing it for intense sexual experiences and other logical but morally questionable purposes. The government tries to kick Michael and Lillian off the project once the vast military potential of the technology is discovered. It soon becomes obvious that the government is interested in more than just missile guidance systems. The lab starts producing mind torture recordings and other psychosis inducing material. When one of the researchers dies and tapes the experience of death, Michael is convinced that he must playback this tape to honor the memory of the researcher and to become enlightened. When another researcher dies during playback the tape is locked away and Michael has to fight against his former colleagues and the government lackeys that now run his lab in order to play back and confront the “scariest thing any of us will ever face” – death itself.