The Game (1997) – A mind-bending psychological thriller that also works as an engrossing character study

1lrEMVzSome may find the idea at the heart of The Game absurd and far-fetched but others may find it ingenious and brainy . But that doesn’t matter. The film, just like the titular game, is an experience that you’ll either love or hate. It all depends on your personality. Either you’ll come away feeling invigorated by the entire experience or you would dismiss the film as rubbish. Be that as it may, you’ll find it impossible to deny the fact that David Fincher knows how to craft a film that is intriguing from start to finish. Fincher has always made films that polarized film-goers. This film is no exception. I found it quite similar to a Christopher Nolan film in some respects.

Clipboard01The film revolves around a sophisticated 48-year old wealthy investment banker named Nicholas Van Orton (played by Michael Douglas). He has recently been divorced and has been lonely ever since. He lives in a large secluded home away from the rest of humanity. There is no one else living in his compound except for his domestic help who cooks for him and takes care of the house while he is gone. Van Orton has constructed this cold and detached persona that makes it near impossible for someone to approach and talk to him. He is ruthless in his business and is too busy working that he has no time for fun or anything else. On his 48th birthday, his brother Conrad (Sean Penn) gives him a special birthday gift. He tells him that it will gift him with “a profound life experience”.

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It turns out to be an invite from a company called Consumer Recreation Services (CRS). Intrigued by this, Van Orton contacts this company. He fills out an application form and takes part in various tests that would determine whether he is deemed fit for taking part in this “game”. He asks an executive what this “game” really is and he is told that it is something that has been tailored specifically for each individual and that “it provides whatever is lacking” and compares it to a vacation “that comes to you instead of you going to it”. When he overhears some of his other businessmen pals talking about this “game”, he inquires about it and is responded with a biblical quote that goes like this: “Whereas once I was blind, now I can see.”

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Van Orton constantly has troubling thoughts about his father’s suicide. He had killed himself on his 48th birthday and Van Orton happened to witness it firsthand. This memory has been haunting him ever since. He still hasn’t been able to figure out why his father did that. Van Orton learns that his application has been rejected by CRS and feels slightly disappointed. But unbeknownst to him, “The Game” has already begun and he goes through numerous testing situations that put him through a living nightmare. Van Orton now starts experiencing the taxing life of an ordinary human being. So far, he was so used to having things work out his way but now finds himself increasingly frustrated, paranoid and almost on the verge of a nervous breakdown when some of these situations appear to be even life-threatening.

Clipboard01The film presents a variety of delicious twists that you never see coming. Much has been said about the ambiguous ending. Some viewers found it to be unsatisfactory and stupid even. I have to admit, I myself felt the same way upon initial viewing but I found myself coming back to the film again and again. I have now grown to overlook the thriller aspects of the film and regard it more as a character study or a spirituality film, if you will. That said, I see the thriller elements as a bonus. There is no denying the fact Fincher has a knack for creating dark and nightmarish atmospheres in his films. But what I found interesting here is that this is the only Fincher film I’ve seen that has a sense of humor. There are two scenes in particular
that had me laughing out loud.
Clipboard01I don’t know how the film would’ve turned if someone else were cast in the lead role instead of Michael Douglas. It’s his performance that keeps the film afloat and prevents it from turning into “just another ordinary psychological thriller”. In the beginning of the film, he plays Van Orton as a near unlikable character who seemingly has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. But as the story progresses, he starts to transform and whatever humanity he has shut off starts to come forth and we begin to feel sympathetic towards him. I was very touched by a particular scene where he finds himself drugged and completely penniless in some dilapidated looking place in Latin America. If the film doesn’t work for you as a thriller, you should look at it as an engrossing character study instead.

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