It is into a new year and I have just completed one of my many marathons that comprised the last year. Some where a means to catch up with works in classic genres, while others were purely to cover cult cinema that I had sat aside. Hell even one month was devoted entirely to watching as many films as possible, which in turn afforded me a chance to do some heavy duty research while also getting published in the process! 2013 was a great year for me and by extension a great year for movies. The realization of this is occurring as I am now flailing about to catch up with a variety of release from last year that were either pushed aside for more explorations of classic cinema or became unwatchable when I was not afforded the chance to step away from school to catch a screening. Fortunately, it is still quite sometime before Oscar and Awards season and I have a more focused chance to knock out a few of these films, although I was not planning on this endeavor leading to serious reworking of my top film list of the past year. While Springbreakers is holding on strong at first, late entries by Nebraska nearly toppled it and the recent viewing of Computer Chess almost completely took the spot. A film that is shot in the vein of mid-eighties nerd technology (i.e. Videtape) about the most seemingly underwhelming of subject matter, the layers of issues at play in Computer Chess are nothing short of enigmatic. Tacking in both serious and comedic manners the questions of humanities place in a growing world of technology and artificial intelligence, Computer Chess plays out like a David Lynch inspired response to Primer one that is at once highly disconcerting and wildly entertaining. I knew about fifteen minutes into the film that it would prove to be far less than normal indie experimental fare, but the turns it takes throughout particularly in the last fifteen or so minutes of the film are absolutely brilliant and worthwhile, I only hope that the evocations to deeper inquiries that arise in this film can come to reflect a world of indie filmmaking that is in line with what has already been established her with Computer Chess and earlier in the work of Shane Carruth, whose own offering in 2013 was perhaps the most notably transcendental work of the year. In which case Computer Chess becomes the most deconstructionist both in medium and message.
Computer Chess as its name eponymously suggests is about the playing of chess by a computer, often focusing on the challenges of a computer playing against a human. Here, however, the narrative centers on an annual conference that includes the brightest minds in artificial intelligence and computing coming together to create their various machinery as a means to challenge other computer based chess programs. The winner of the competition is awarded a sum of $75,000 dollars and is afforded the chance for their machine to play against the likes of Pat Henderson (Gerald Peary) a world renowned chess-master and the organizer of the event. While the teams are represented by both school-based programs such as those at MIT, as well as by non-academic persons with interest in the subject, notably the socially awkward Michael Papageorge (Myles Paige), it is almost entirely focused on the occurrence of one teams computer as it appears to fall apart, working against itself in a way that is clearly not within the original intent of the program. The team's leader Martin Beuscher (Wiley Wiggins) becomes a frantic mess, asking for passes and a chance to correct software malefactions, while his less talkative colleague Peter Bishton (Patrick Riester) works through the night testing issues with the hardware as well, even seeking out help late at night via test matches with other competitors in the competition. When Peter and Martin's advisor emerges, things appear to be headed to a positive point, only to discover that much more has occurred with their chess program than could have initially been imagined, possibly extending to use by government figures for military tactics. While almost entirely unaware of this reality, Peter wanders about the hotel looking for answers, eventually finding conflict when he stumbles into the space of a New Age self-help group that also appears to have a penchant for orgiastic behavior. While the computer program continues to have problems, it is revealed in the closing portions of the film that it might well be an issue of artificial intelligence becoming too familiar with human replication and thus recreating it without permission a change that the film suggests might extend beyond a simple program to move pawns across a board.
This film is not your labyrinth film in a traditional sense, or perhaps it is, in that much like the other popular labyrinth film The Shining, the film does situate itself within a hotel, one whose rules and state of existence are quite illogical in the same was as The Overlook Hotel in Kubrick's film. Here though the heady exploration of identity and replication both organically and mechanically takes on intense proportions, made all the more so by executing the narrative on a noticeably antiquated form of moving image capturing. The medium is of particular note because it is the larger diegetic layer of display that helps manifest the labyrinth of Computer Chess into existence. The fact that the narrative both philosophically and humorously navigates what it would mean for an artificial intelligence entity to become sentient enough to realize the difference between playing against another computer and a human is absolutely thought provoking, but tends to ask wherein lies the distinction, particularly in regards to a game like chess that is a series of strategic moves, the greats members of the game proving to play constantly, slowly becoming more sentient of the various possibilities which emerge in a game of heavy strategy. It seems to be the lack of rhythm and repetition that causes a computer to distinguish itself from a more well-reasoned computer. It comprehends hesitancy and lack of formality as human, which is juxtaposed quite brilliantly with the space being navigated by a group of people who break down things in a highly logical and factual manner. Indeed, aside from the curiously intercut sequence of a group of the computer chess programers smoking pot while dancing around the subject of government involvement in artificial intelligence, the film wants viewers to be aware of the generally objective nature of the people in the tournament, making the emergence of paranormal and fantastical elements that much more bizarre, not because they happen, but because the characters seem so set on them happening within a logical framework, two in particular completely destroying any sense of human/technology divide in the process. This film absolutely winds into dark corners of theoretically heavy discussions and comes out the other end all the more enigmatic, but no less enticing.
Key Scene: Let's just say it involves an ultrasound.
This is on Netflix, you should set time aside accordingly.