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Cypher (2002)

Never forget who you are.

Directed by:

Vincenzo Natali

Rating: 9/10

Running Time: 95 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

Country: United States, Italy

Director Vincenzo Natali has followed his claustrophobic debut 'Cube' with 'Cypher', another tale of labyrinthine entrapment set in the not so distant future. Only this time, the much bigger budget has allowed Natali to broaden his ambitions, and the result is an impressively expansive vision of dystopia.

When Digicorp signs up non-entity Morgan Sullivan to become a corporate spy, it seems the perfect opportunity for Morgan to bring some excitement to an otherwise bland life. Travelling from state to state under the alias of Jack Thursby, Sullivan quickly reinvents himself as a cigarette smoking, single malt drinking lover of golf from the South Seas, but his assignments – secretly recording speeches given at hotel conventions put on by rival corporation Sunways – turn out to be drab, uneventful affairs. Then a strange, attractive woman called Rita reveals that Digicorp has been using the conferences to brainwash Morgan into believing that he really is Jack, and Morgan is soon co-opted to do counterintelligence work for Sunways, pretending to think he is Jack and feeding bogus data to Digicorp. Swept along by the unclear motives of both corporations, and by the interventions of a shadowy freelance operative called Sebastian Rooks, Morgan begins to lose his grip on who he is, what he wants and where his allegiances lie.

With its alter egos, double agents and triple crosses, 'Cypher' combines industrial espionage with alternative reality in a satisfyingly mind-bending plot reminiscent of Philip K. Dick at his best. Every time you think you have 'Cypher' pinned down, a new twist forces you to reassess radically all that has proceeded – and then, when the film is over, you will find yourself replaying all the events in your mind, wondering how it all can fit together so neatly, and whether the ending really is as upbeat as it first seemed. In short, while it lasts little more than an hour and a half, this devilishly enigmatic film will keep your brain in knots for days.

Dystopian science fiction often borrows the frame of film noir – a tradition traceable from 'Blade Runner' to 'Brazil', 'Gattaca' and 'Minority Report'. 'Cypher' nods to this convention by being in something like, if not the same as, black and white, with most of its colour artificially subdued – an effect which, as well as being integral, in complicated ways, to the meaning of the story, also makes 'Cypher' very stylish to watch indeed.

Lucy Liu puts in an appropriately inscrutable performance as Rita, and gets to wear a striking array of outfits, but Jeremy Northam is truly extraordinary in his double rôle as both nerdish, confused Morgan Sullivan and the suave agent he gets to play.

'Cypher' is an excellent addition to a long line of films (see below) which prove that in cinema, if not in life, dystopia is the place to be.

It's Got: Intrigue, identity crisis, and more twists than a pretzel factory

It Needs: A medal for scriptwriter Brian King

Summary

A spy thriller, an existential thriller and a brainteaser all at once, with great performances and hallucinatory visuals. Highly recommended.

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5 Comments

  1. Posted January 16, 2011 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Watched the movie on TV at approx 11:00 p.m or thereafter,NZ time,found it very weird,yet suspenseful! Noticed subliminal programming,and brainwashing being used,during their conference meetings.
    What if, the system was actually using similar to this,the methods seen on the movie,without the need for all the brain tools etc? Get the feeling someone is trying to tell you something,by dropping cleverly crafted hints?

  2. Posted January 16, 2011 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    In my many,many months of personal observation,study and research,I have come to the conclusion that we ARE being spoon-fed lies,are being led up the garden path,using all types of medium to make us/keep us under fear,fear of the unknown,guilt,etc – especially where money is concerned.
    ALL are trying to keep you in line under their thumb. As a Christian, miss a day of church, and someone there will tell someone else where you live,even though you didn’t give them your address,and send the “Church police” around! I have/am living it,and experiencing this.
    They seem to ask you a lot of questions about things, seeking to know all the details. In reality what’s it to them and why do they push to get it? Give them an illusion.

  3. Posted January 16, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    I saw the original “Tron” in the 80’s and I thought it was as dumb then as it is now.

  4. Posted January 16, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    “American Psycho” starring Christian Bale is wicked! One great Movie! Apparently Bale is a bit of an “A Hole” in real life! Check out the reports of his outrageous rants and tantrums during the making of “Terminator 4”!

  5. Posted January 16, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    “Red Eye” is a great movie too.

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