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The Game (1997) - Plot Summary Poster

(1997)

Plot

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Summaries

  • After a wealthy banker is given an opportunity to participate in a mysterious game, his life is turned upside down when he becomes unable to distinguish between the game and reality.

    Phox
  • Nicholas Van Orton is a very wealthy San Francisco banker, but he is an absolute loner, even spending his birthday alone. In the year of his 48th birthday (the age his father committed suicide) his brother Conrad, who has gone long ago and surrendered to addictions of all kinds, suddenly returns and gives Nicholas a card giving him entry to unusual entertainment provided by something called Consumer Recreation Services (CRS). Giving in to curiosity, Nicholas visits CRS and all kinds of weird and bad things start to happen to him.

  • Michael Douglas plays Nicholas Van Orton, a Scrooge-like San Francisco investment banker following in his father's Scrooge-like footsteps. On Nicholas's 48th birthday (the age at which his father committed suicide), his younger, free-spirited brother Conrad (Sean Penn) blows into town and gives Nicholas a special gift for "the man who has everything" -- a ticket to CRS (Consumer Recreation Services), a company that constructs games custom-fit for each participant to provide, as CRS salesman Jim Feingold (James Rebhorn) cryptically puts it, "whatever is lacking." Nicholas's secure life begins a downhill slide as CRS masterminds a series of elaborate pranks, harmless at first, that quickly become malicious and life-threatening. Stripped of financial resources and convinced that he can trust no one, Nicholas begins to wonder if CRS is a front for a more covert operation, and if the game is in fact an attempt to steal his fortune and leave him for dead. Determined to fight back alone, Nicholas infiltrates CRS in order to "pull back the curtain and meet the wizard."


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The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is a successful businessman living alone in a large mansion outside San Francisco, California, but his success has come at the cost of his family life. When the movie opens, he is divorced, distant from his caring ex-wife and cold toward his only living relative, his kid brother, Conrad (Sean Penn). Nicholas goes about life in a cold, detached manner and seems incapable of expressing emotion or caring for anyone outside of himself.

    On Nicholas's 48th birthday, Conrad shows up unannounced at a local restaurant that Nicholas frequents where he presents him with an unusual gift: a voucher for a "game" offered by a company called Consumer Recreation Services (CRS). Conrad promises that it will change his brother's life. (The idea of Consumer Recreation Services seems to be borrowed directly from the G.K. Chesterton story "The Tremendous Adventures of Major Brown"). The nature of the game is unclear at first, but it appears to be a sort of live action role-playing game that integrates directly into the player's real life.

    Nicholas has doubts about CRS, but he meets fellow bankers who enjoyed the game. He goes to CRS's offices to apply and is irritated by the lengthy and time-consuming series of psychological and physical examinations required. After a full day of tests and a physical examination, Nicholas is informed that the game company cannot serve him. However, Nicholas soon discovers that this is false and the game has begun. The game focuses on a key moment of Nicholas' life when, as a child, he witnessed his father committing suicide by leaping off their family home, the same home Nicholas lives in. Significantly, Nicholas' father took his life on his 48th birthday, the same age as Nicholas is now.

    Soon Nicholas begins to believe that his business, reputation, finances, and safety are at risk. He encounters a waitress, Christine (Debra Kara Unger), who appears to have been endangered by the game. Nicholas contacts the police to investigate CRS, but they find the offices abandoned.

    Eventually, Conrad appears to Nicholas and apologizes, claiming that he, too, has come under attack by CRS. With no one else to turn to, Nicholas finds Christine's home. He soon discovers that she is a CRS employee and that her apartment was staged. Christine tells Nicholas that they are being watched. Nicholas attacks a camera, and armed CRS troops begin to swarm the house and fire upon them. Nicholas and Christine are forced to flee. Christine tells Nicholas that CRS has drained his financial accounts by using the psychological tests to guess his passwords. In a panic, Nicholas calls his bank and gives a verification code to check his account balance-zero. Just as he begins to trust Christine, he realizes she has drugged him. As he loses consciousness, she admits that she is actually part of the scam and that he made a fatal mistake by giving up his verification code.

    Nicholas wakes up to find himself entombed alive in a cemetery in Mexico. He escapes from his confinement and makes it to a local U.S. consulate where is is forced to sell his gold wristwatch to get the money to escape. Nicholas returns to San Francisco where he finds his mansion foreclosed and most of his possessions removed. He retrieves a hidden gun and seeks the aid of his ex-wife. While talking with her and apologizing for his neglect and mistreatment, he discovers that Jim Feingold (James Rebhorn), the CRS employee who had conducted his psychological tests, is an actor working in television advertisements.

    Nicholas locates Feingold and forces him to find CRS's real office, whereupon he takes Christine hostage. Nicholas demands to be taken to the leader of CRS. Attacked by CRS troops, Nicholas takes Christine to the roof and bars the door behind them. The CRS troops begin cutting through the door. Christine realizes that Nicholas's gun is not a prop and is terrified. She frantically tells Nicholas that the conspiracy is a hoax, a fiction that is just part of the game, that his finances are intact, and that his family and friends are waiting on the other side of the door. He refuses to believe her. The door bursts open, and Nicholas shoots the first person to emerge: Conrad, bearing an open bottle of champagne. Devastated, Nicholas leaps off the roof, just as his late father did.

    Nicholas's life passes before his eyes as he falls. He smashes through a glass roof and lands on a giant air bag. Emergency medical technicians carefully remove him, and he finds himself in a ballroom full of his friends, family, and every person involved in his Game; it really had been just a game all along. Conrad is alive and well, and explains that he initiated the game to get his brother to embrace life and not to end up like their father. Nicholas bursts into tears, relaxes, and begins to enjoy the party once his shock has dissipated. When he sees that Christine has left the party, he follows her outside to her cab. He asks her to dinner, and she offers to share a coffee with him before her flight takes her to her next game assignment in Australia.

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