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Dreaming in pixels

Simone is a pretty good science fiction comedy, and I’d recommend seeing it before it leaves the theaters. I’d been looking forward to it for a while; Andrew Niccol directed Gattaca, which was one of the better SF movies of the 1990s. Since then, he wrote The Truman Show, confirming my belief that he has an understanding of deep SF themes.

One big difference between Simone and Gattaca is that Simone’s a comedy. Niccol had trouble getting into the rhythm of comedy early on, but fortunately he had Al Pacino (as Viktor Taransky) and Catherine Keener (as Elaine Christian) to smooth over those rough bits. The pair of them carry the movie over the early awkwardness, and the core themes of the movie take us the rest of the way.

Evan Rachel Wood, as Taransky’s daughter Lainey Christian, was not so good. I could have sworn she was in her twenties after seeing the movie, although she turns out to be just fifteen — but she plays the role very collected, very calm, and not really very much like a teenager. Come to think of it, several of the performances could be best described as “detached.”

That might perhaps be Niccol’s direction. Gattaca was very stylized and detached, and of course in some ways The Truman Show was a movie about detachment, so I’m willing to suspect that he brought that tendency to Simone. Again, though, Pacino and Keener humanize the movie, giving it the connection to the audience that a good comedy needs.

The ideas at the core of the movie are sound. Don’t expect accuracy of technology — even if we had the ability to do what’s depicted in Simone, the technology wouldn’t propagate in the same way. It’s a metaphor of a movie, not to be taken totally literally. (Which doesn’t make it not SF. See also The Space Merchants, for example.)

What’s the metaphor about? Identity, of course. The question at hand is not “will people be fooled by Simone,” but “what is Simone in relationship to Viktor Taransky?” It’s probably no surprise that I was fascinated.

I hope Andrew Niccol decides to make more comedies, and I hope he learned from watching his actors — his themes are always fascinating, and working in the comic genre gentles the sharp angles which his scripts all seem to have. But either way, I’m going to continue looking forward to everything he does.

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