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Mr. Robot (2015–2019)
Mr. Robot loves Elliot, You Should Love You
28 September 2022
Full-on dissociative identity or multiple/split personality disorder isn't common, but there are less drastic ways a person will partially lose or subdivide their personality. That's why it's not important to diagnose Elliot of Mr. Robot. As complex as his mental health case is, he's still relatable to a sizable population of "normal" or merely eccentric folks in the real world.

The realistic elements of the contemporary context are important to connecting with viewers, as well. Similarly themed projects often draw on hyperbolic, farther-fetched sci-fi elements, or they project out into the future, just a bit, so they can include technological extrapolations (e.g. Minority Report, Black Mirror, The Feed). As for Mr. Robot, it creates an intrigue on par with strong sci-fi, but the context rings true, though sometimes caricatured or artistically simplified.

Mr. Robot's abilities on a keyboard, though, and his resilience against defeat, might be enough to label him a clearly fictional hero, though he's dramatically flawed. He's more believable and relatable than Batman or Mission Impossible type stuff. Quite the opposite, some viewers may be prone to loving the character, not something associated with caped avengers.

The creator, Sam Esmail, avoided overuse of Elliot's capabilities as a means to create tension or grandeur. Again, no, the focus stays on Elliot figuring himself out, all the while a far-reaching plot goes on through and and round him. Still, if no part of Elliot parallels some aspect of your life, the journeys of the supporting characters very well may. His sister, the FBI agent, the man in the hall Elliot regrets having to emotionally eviscerate . . . There are a multiplicity of sub dramas that touch on most any way humans experience pain or trauma.

Elliot later gets to apologize to that man in the hall. All he did was talk the man into dropping pretenses about himself, though, which may not have been a bad thing in the long run. Elliot is always just trying to make things right for himself and everyone on the earth. If he lapses, he's trying to cope with things that are overwhelming and mysterious inside his own self. Sometimes circumstances and his personal vulnerabilities get the better of him.

Restorative justice, though, might be hard to achieve for at least a few things Mr. Robot does on Elliot's behalf (the murder of Romero, a co-conspirator, sticks in my mind). But Elliot remains a sympathetic character in great part because his flaws are generally relatable. I favored believing in that plenty enough to suspend disbelief in the more fantastic or unbelievably convenient plot points. And that's being harsh on the show. If there were holes, I didn't see them because it was worth it to me not to, so someone else will have to judge the technicals.

The computer hacking and such is fascinating, actually. But I focused on Elliot's inner mission, and I think that's what Esmail intended.

Elliot is trying very, very hard. That's relatable for a lot of folks, too, who are struggling with both themselves and the world, and just wishing they can manage to do the right thing, to make the right choices.

Lots of people experience social anxiety, depression, bipolar . . .. Depersonalization or derealization, too, describe when someone feels disconnected from themselves or their surroundings. I, myself, have sequestered parts of myself or alternated faces to handle various perceived crises. I've used that strategy since I was four years old, but a seeming tragedy recently helped make me whole again.

There are some who the show probably disturbed; I don't doubt it. Despite its dark themes, it's entertaining, captivating, and a good story, I would think, even for those who don't need it as therapy. But the intent of the show wasn't just to either disturb or entertain. During on episode, a number is displayed on the screen to call if the viewer or someone they know is suicidal. For me, in particular, the show, itself, not the number, came at just the right time, not while I was in crisis, but at a time I was reading to follow the map back to wholeness.

A person can loose track of parts of themselves, or fail to control themselves the way they'd like. Sudden, inexplicable anger or sadness are sometimes among the symptoms, regardless of remorse. Splintering one's personality to internally cope with external pressures is traumatic in it's own way. It's fraught with inexplicable guilt, sadness, and angst which come seemingly out of nowhere and sometimes most inopportune.

Rugens and Terhune summarize other scholars in saying, "The tendency to experience dissociative states characterized by disruptions between the normally integrated systems of attention, awareness, memory and identity (trait dissociation) is a reliable predictor of state dissociation during or following trauma (peritraumatic dissociation). There is evidence that negative emotional states may mediate this relationship."

Though this is what starts the article on this very complex topic, I wonder how my own experiences are affecting my interpretation, because I feel like I understand nearly every word of that, though I'm not a psychologist, neurologist, or any nearby -ist. Mental illness is sometimes necessary as a means of survival.

I perceive another individual, sometimes, as a proud soul who thoroughly loves themselves, knows who they are, and finds equilibrium in life pretty much all the time. That's not me. That's not lots of folks. And maybe I'm merely fooled by bubbly extroverts; everybody goes through something. We just handle it differently and have differing approaches to self-assessment. Self-esteem and self-worth are central to human function, and yet, capitalism, media, and culture erodes and complicate, perhaps more often than they support stability and self-love. Some cases get so complex and threatening that a person has to divide themselves in order to live to fight another day.

Rugens and Terhune had fifty graduate students and their professors stare at themselves in the mirror. Prior to the experiment, none of the participants self-reported any mental illness. However, the researchers were able to elicit and measure dissociative responses in those formally educated, "sane" people. Merely by making them look at their own reflections. Saying guilt-laden phrases to the participants made them dissociate according to the data. More precisely, what they find is that guilt "moderates the relationship between dissociative tendencies and dissociative states." That's not a new finding. Back in 1998 H J Irwin wrote that guilt and shame "contribute significantly to the prediction of dissociative tendencies."

It's not usually possible to make things 100% right and explained, especially when others wrong us or take advantage of our vulnerabilities. Perhaps we "enjoy" blaming ourselves, in that we can control that and apply whatever penalties to ourselves that we see fit.

I think, for me, I needed to reach a point where I could read myself like a book or look in the mirror casually, without something of myself hiding under the counter. To not see failures or injustices as random, but, rather, as meaningful destiny. A person can choose whether to let someone else's actions outright identify them, but they can't escape such realities entirely. "No comment" is not an option.

There's a spectrum of distortions short of someone making a full break with themselves. Regardless, reintegration probably won't happen without a person forgiving themselves. That much is clear.

For Elliot, finding that required that he not give up, though he sometimes gave in. He returned to seeking resolution no matter what. And that's what redeemed him: his need to be whole and right despite so many things tearing him apart.

Ultimately, the show is a supremely articulated (to me) and timed (for me) request that I unify or consolidate my personality and abandon projected or internalized artifice apart from its proper uses.

People call that being authentic or real, which are apt, except that artifice is real, too, and I don't want to confuse or muddle such an important thing as treating one's self with the utmost respect and wishing good for all the world.

Just as someone writing about a show that last dropped an episode three years ago, Mr. Robot could confuse. A person could get the wrong idea. There's nothing nefarious, though, once the show is considered in its totality.

Nonetheless, as I got into the first few episodes, I had to overlook derivative concepts on loan from The Matrix, Fight Club, Person of Interest, etc . . .. As the story develops, I found these loaner ideas were used creatively and productively.

I also stuck it out through the seemingly cliché and yet sometimes controversial themes and plot points: sex, drugs, computer hacking, mental illness, terrorism, corporate villainy, the idea of sheeple, bleak imagery . . .. My taste and disposition only sometimes tolerate such things, but it became easier and easier to do so as I picked up more of the breadcrumbs.

When a person has partitioned themselves internally due to some extraordinary stress or complexity, it can be hard for them to stabilize their mood and feel they even understand themselves. And it can be hard to put everything all back together once it's been taken apart . . . If the sufferer even realizes what they've done to themselves in an effort to cope.

Elliot switches between various sub-personalities at times. Other times he merely censors himself for the wrong reasons and with limited self-awareness. But he plays detective on his own self as he also navigates extraordinary circumstances.

His greatest accomplishment comes when he stops fighting what's wrong in the world and within, and finally finds his way to letting himself be fully present. He also comes to see people like his sister as special in that they loved him despite that he'd pushed them away.
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Watch with objectivity and perspective, perhaps not sociopolitcs
26 July 2022
The blood reminds of Tarentino at times, especially later in the film, and less humorously, though the film is not without levity of sorts. The movie feels committed to itself. It builds. And it somehow broaches very controversial subject matter without extinguishing empathy for the leading characters. And it climbs. There are a few plot turns that take a few minutes to stabilize because of how ambitious an attempt is made and mostly pulled off.

It gets a bit tenuous in places and variously so depending on what shocks a person. The meaning or message still escapes me with only five minutes left, and I see that as a positive. And then it takes another step toward the level of Naked Lunch, though nothing is making me suspect it will go quite that far . . . Indeed, the film ends abruptly, actually. The turns somehow save the racial morality of the movie, maybe. I'm uncertain whether I'm missing a hidden harm, or does the film just skirt the edges. To what level is the film provocative? To me, it gets away with itself.

I looked at other reviews and see there's a spectrum. Some call it satire while others take the film more literally and with more specific messages based on current affairs and the state of actual news.

Undoubtedly, it's controversial on paper. A white militiaman with a Nazi symbol tattooed on his chest has a complicated relationship with a black woman. His ups and downs are also driven by a rival militiaman. And, then, there's the layer of the movie that would seem to implicate divicive news media exploiting anything for more money and fame . . . Or they're telling the truth? I don't want to give away too much. What I can say is that when the movie feels like it's going to pace itself out, it shifts gears and picks right back up.
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Con Men (2015)
Hold judgement till the end
18 June 2020
The film holds audience interest throughout but the depth of the movie is only foreshadowed, not substantiated, until the end. By the end It comes off as smart and original. As a native speaker of American English, I was not able to catch all of the dialogue. I'm sure I missed some details, but not enough to detract from my enjoyment or overall understanding.
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Carnage (2011)
Well done, especially well cast
2 September 2018
Yes, the movie is well composed and definitely has something to say about how we react to life (i.e., how not to react). But thinking from the actors' POVs is so entertaining in this film. Jodie Foster goes all in on her emotional character with face and tendons ablaze. And Christoph Waltz is always just plain fun to watch and listen to--reminds very loosely of his character in Inglorious Bastards. John Reilly is just right, though he has a bit less to do than the others. Kate Winslet, as well, is the right person for her role, but if there's a fault it's her attempt to portray a buzz. Anyone who bought into the film, though, which is plenty eacy enough to do, could easily miss that. It's a keeper.
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Alistair1918 (2015)
Good intentions, vision lacking
26 June 2018
The first 20 minutes is as if it were character produced, either for Poppy's documentary or via their computers/phones, etc., which has a Blair Witch effect, but that comes with drawbacks and limitations, so it's mostly abandoned, though the style tries to stay consistent. I'm not sure how a WWI British soldier unexpectedly blown forward in time 100 years would behave, but I'm not sure this Allistair is it (though he fleetingly turns into B. Willis). The only mildly interesting developments that might start to signal some type of meaning is the contrasting attitudes of Poppy and Brandon toward homeless people in general and Allistair specifically, perhaps in contrast with the connection Allistair seems to have with/for his wife. But then the outrageous Monty-Python accent of Sophie unloads a sci-fi package not worthy of anyone suspending their disbelief. And since the characters are all paper thin, the attempt at drama over getting Allistair home feels tired. The payoff for all the choppy, poorly-framed footage we suffered though and whatever sense of authenticity or realism it can muster is in the very last, over-before-you-know-it-scene. I won't give it away, but it wouldn't matter if I did.
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LFO (2013)
Fascinating and tempting, but not always tasty
24 June 2018
There's a decadent fantasy here and the audience might just want to relate or vicariously share the main character's enjoyment of his power. And the film is also just original and quirky enough that I was tempted to go up to eight stars. However, it's also a bit messy and at times unsavory and, well, just isn't going for eight starts. It set out to be a full-value, I-am-what-I-am, dirty-secret seven.
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ARQ (2016)
Hooks brain and emotions
24 June 2018
I'm all into movies where some part of reality gets altered or tweaked and while it's been some time since I've seen ARQ I had to come back and review it because this is one of few in that line that doesn't just mess with the head, but also has the tension and, well, story arc like that of any good movie. It's well worth the watch.
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Primer (2004)
If time travel movies are your thing, that makes this a must-watch
24 June 2018
I almost exclusively review time travel or otherwise tripped out sci-fi and this is one of my favs in that vein, but about all I can say is watch it. It's fascinating. It's also fascinating to follow up the viewing with fan diagrams of the plot(s).
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The Frame (2014)
Composed and worthwhile
24 June 2018
While ideas of God or fate may come up, I latch onto the film's address of the controls we necessarily allow to crop our lives. While we watch the character's emotional journeys, the audience's experience is purely intellectual, which is the main limitation of the film. The relationship element of the movie seems more a vehicle for the story than the center, so I'm glad they kept to their real purpose by not including mushy stuff that would have muddled everything. It's about freedom of the self not being fulfilled by others. One other criticism, personally, is that I find it moves rather slow and the scenes of literally fighting the frame seem a bit gimmicky.
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Altered Hours (2016)
Decent Idea, Terrible Execution
23 June 2018
Positive reviews for this film are forgiving and I think based mostly on concepts only pointed at by the film, not actually realized. Yes, the premise is great, but the impetus of the movie shifts and the acting is spotty at best. I don't mind having to figure things out as I go--that can be the appeal of a film--but the cast and crew seemed to also be developing their vision as they filmed. Most important is that the co-star's character is sorely underdeveloped given the crusader she emerges as in the end. They recall bits of the movie that were to have foreshadowed this, but the effect flops. Somewhat similarly, the main character's motive for using Z has to be stated explicitly at the end. While it makes total sense with the movie content, he's too much of a mystery otherwise to triangulate/confirm. What's less of an issue, but still sticks out is the poor acting of the inexplicable villain and the absurdly, grotesquely incompetent acting of the detective. It's probably not all the fault of the actor, though, as no one seemed to have a clue what was or was not supposed to be driving the film, which also contributed to the empty acting and tedium.
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