Ready Player One (A Film Review)

I’m not sure about the other viewers, but the movie Ready Player One, directed by Steven Spielberg, sucked me into it as if it was a black hole. Time stood still. The past, present, and future mixed and sizzled in one intoxicating brew.

Ready Player One opened with Van Halen’s song “Jump,” which made me munch my popcorn a lot more than usual as I synced my chewing with the catchy grooving. It tells of a virtual reality called the Oasis, where the citizens of the year 2045, particularly from Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A., transform their miserable lives into their personal dreams inside the Oasis for their daily dose of escapism. There, they can look and be whatever they want. If that does not improve much on their reality, the sensual category will. They can wear a special suit which allows them to feel the fleshy pleasure, or even pain, in localized portions of their bodies. Yes, I get you, even “down there.”

The Oasis is controlled privately by Innovative Online Industries (IOI) headed by Nolan Sorrento, a selfish bureaucrat. But one can be the owner of the Oasis if one finds the Easter Egg. James Halliday, the nostalgic creator of the futuristic Oasis, before he died, set up a game in there where, to get to the Egg, a virtual player should first locate three keys, one after another, following enigmatic clues.

I leave the rest of the movie to your viewing.

But the past is so alive in this futuristic movie. Back to the Future’s time-machine car DeLorean is there. Jurassic Park’s T-Rex is there. King Kong. The Iron Giant. The Atari console. Old-school video games. There are lines from classic films, as well. The Shining! ’70s and ’80s music frolic in sonic boom. Pop Culture! There is something eerie in this mix. Perhaps Spielberg is telling us something. Perhaps, the future can make perfect sense only with the past.

Perhaps the virtue of virtual reality should be tempered with reality itself.

If the irony of pitting reality against virtual reality is too strange for you, then, like asking how to play Jazz music, you ain’t ever gonna know. But is virtual reality bad in itself?

In the movie, there is a red button that, upon pressing it, could delete the entire Oasis. Wade, the main protagonist, did not press it. Instead, he as the new owner, together with his friends, closed the Oasis twice a week, so people could get back to the real world, back to the actual reality.

The movie speaks to two generations: The old and the new.

The old generation is a generation of meaning; a generation of “taming”; as in The Little Prince: “One understands only the things that one tames,” said the fox. To tame is “to establish ties,” the fox continued. It may be a generation of scarcity.

But one rose is enough: A rose unique in all the roses of the world. It is the rose that one loves. Atari is unique in all the video games of the modern world. It is the video game that I love.

The new generation, in contrast, is a generation of plenty. It is a generation of pleasure. Everything has already been invented to make most things easier, convenient, and accessible. But happiness remains elusive. Did you really equate pleasure with happiness?

Sometimes, old-school chaps like me feel an avuncular pity for kids in the new generation. They have been born in a time when inventions had already been turned into conventions. Yes, there are upgrades every now and then. But they are nothing compared to the moments of invention. The sense of wonder and amazement, not unlike being present at the moment of Genesis, when the first video game was unleashed could no longer be duplicated in the hearts and minds of today’s kids. Ours was first love.

In the movie, Wade’s knowledge of the Pop Culture and other relics of the past, coupled with his insights, made him solve the game’s clues every step of the way. Indeed, the key to the future is the past. In the movie, the keys to the future are found in the past: Digital keys are dug up from the annals of analog pop culture.

And what of finding the Easter Egg as the prize to symbolize the ownership of the Oasis? Maybe it meant resurrection, a new life, as it has been for years the heathen symbol associated with Christ’s resurrection.

Science, inventions, and technology are amoral. In sinister hands, they become evil. In caring hands, they become tools to improve humanity.

Spielberg may be a Jew, but the resurrection symbolism transcends his own religion. The message is there. If you got it, then call yourself Player One.