Thursday, August 30, 2012

Apophenia - Another Thing Europe Apparently Does Better Than Us*

*For most of you who are, justifiably wondering 'What the Hell is Apophenia?' it's a psychological obsession with the number 23, often associated with Illuminati conspiracy theories.

With that curious little factoid, we begin this week's discussion (and in case the title hasn't made it clear, no, it's NOT The Number 23.)  The concept of apophenia makes a notable theme for this week's movie - the German feature '23'.

Loosely based on a true story, the film concerns real-life 80s computer hacker Karl Koch (played by August Diehl.)  A rebellious, if somewhat dispassionate teen, his love of the Illuminatus! novels has instilled in him the legitimate belief that a worldwide conspiracy is in power over all.  This belief eventually leads him to the earliest phases of the internet and the hacker subculture.  After making a name for himself at a computer show, he and a friend are approached for a job.  What follows is a series of hacking jobs carried out for, and payrolled by, the KGB.  The increasing pressure from the job, as well as drug use, fuel Karl's own paranoid fantasies, sending him further and further off the rails as the film plays out.

I have to admit, there's something a little surreal about watching these scenes and realizing, relatively speaking, just how far the tech has evolved since this pointPrimarily in realizing this is still younger than I am.

The more I look back at this movie, the more I keep finding myself comparing it to David Fincher's 'The Social Network.'  Both based on true stories, and while each starts with an interesting external event (in this case, the hacking and espionage storyline) in both films, the real meat of the movie comes from its focus on the protagonist and their own internal workings.  In this regard, the film holds up pretty well.  The hacking storyline could have made a good movie in its own right, and for its part it makes for some good scenes of interaction between the four main players (alongside Diehl there's Fabian Busch as his friend and fellow hacker David, Jan Gregor Kremp as the more business-minded Lupo, and Dieter Landuris as the group's KGB contact and drug dealer Pepe.)  As the film goes on, however, we become more pulled into Karl's world and see how his theories go from simple theories to full-on delusions.  So much so that many of the more interesting parts of the later half come from seeing just how his heightened paranoia has driven rifts between him and his partners in crime, whose responses range anywhere from concern to beleaguered amusement.

As Karl, Diehl really manages to carry the range necessary for this transition.  I have to admit, this role caught me a bit off guard at first, as I had previously only seen him in Tarentino's Inglourious Basterds (wherein he was several years older and on the other side of the line between authority and anarchy.)  At the start of the movie, he comes across as your classic sullen teenager, especially in the few scenes he has against his father (Hanns Zischler.)  From there, we see him gain a sort of self-confident air as a hacker only to watch as the downward spiral turns him into an introverted mess of a human being.  It's a lot to cover and Diehl does a good job without overplaying his hand at any point.  Likewise, his costars take on their respective roles well, especially Busch who goes from a good friend to becoming increasingly uncertain of their work and friendship as things come apart.  After a while, you feel bad for the guy because you can tell he's trying to get Karl to snap out of things, but it's a futile effort that came too little, too late.

The one other thing that I'd say really stands out for me on this film is some of the sound and music editing.  Some of the most memorable sequences for me were involving just simple background audio or music, such as the opening titles (panning over Karl's collection of conspiracy notes set to Deep Purple's 'Child Out of Time') and a sequence early on involving Karl and David driving through city streets set to Iggy Pop's 'The Passenger' as they note the many occurences of '5' and '23' in everyday life around them (both considered crucial numbers to the Illuminati.)  Even when not employing music, they still make good use of other audio editing - featuring the real-life events of the time in newsreel montages, while a bit of a cliche, is still played well here, especially in the second half as these events start to feel to Karl as more than just seeming chance occurrences.  There is one other moment would like to mention, but as it's something of a spoiler, I'll just say it's near the end of the film and hope that gives an additional incentive to look up the movie.

Which makes for one Hell of a more interesting road game than the usual 'I Spy...'

Overall, I'm not sure I'd call this one of the greatest movies ever made.  At the same time though, I was very pleasantly surprised by it.  For something I discovered entirely by chance in a wikipedia chain (I can't even remember how it started...but then that's always the start with something like European economics, cut to an hour later as you wonder why the Hell you're looking up the musical career of William Shatner [I'm not sure exactly how that one would work, but if someone can find a way, feel free to post the directions for warped curiosity's sake]) this exceeded what I was expecting.  All in all, still a rather interesting biopic/character study set against an equally pretty cool bit of history.

Wow...been a while since we got a single full-on good review here.  It feels a little bit weird.

Rest assured though, we're diving back into the bag of pain for next week's entry, so the craziness hasn't been abandoned yet.  We're just diversifying is all!

...yeah, I think even here I'd argue this still was better than our attempt. 
Not much in this one case, but still better.

No comments:

Post a Comment