Serenity is owned by Aviron Pictures
So now that it’s been a week since Serenity graced theaters, you’ve all had a chance to go see it and get your mind blown or hear other people regale you with their stories of seeing the movie themselves! When I went to go see it, I was coming down with a pretty nasty cold and perhaps that’s why I ended up liking the movie more than a lot of other people (it’s got a pretty abysmal score on Rotten Tomatoes), but I do think that there’s something at least INTERESTING in the movie’s ideas even if it’s not the most coherent use of a wacky twist and a high concept I’ve seen in a movie. Well everyone else has already given their unfiltered opinions on what the movie actually means and how well it pulls of its absurd twist, so why don’t I go ahead and give you mine! First things first…
Just What the Heck is Going on Here?
Since we’re going to be analyzing some of the film’s themes, we might as well start with a spoiler filled recap of the entire narrative. For the first half of the movie, we’re following Matthew McConaughey who’s on a small island named Plymouth and he’s obsessed with catching a tuna fish that he calls Justice. During his meaningless existence of waking up, not catching the fish, and drinking himself to sleep at night, he gets visited by his ex-wife played by Anne Hathaway who offers him ten million to kill her utter scumbag of a husband played by Jason Clarke, and also he had a son named Patrick with Anne Hathaway and the two of them have been viciously abused by Jason Clarke. This back and forth goes on for some time as McConaughey keeps hemming and hawing over whether he should do it, but the whole time something seems off. Anne Hathaway seems to have jumped out of a noir thriller and Jason Clarke is an absurdly exaggerated caricature of a bad person; not to mention that there’s this one dude in a dorky suit trying to find McConaughey the whole time but always just misses him. Is there something else going on here? Well yes there is! When the mystery man played by Jeremy Strong finally catches up to McConaughey, he offers him a super duper fish finding device to use that will hopefully catch him that tuna once and for all which would be a good way to spend an afternoon instead of maybe sort of killing a guy. Not that Jeremy Strong somehow KNOWS anything about that! Okay fine, he does. McConaughey ends up getting him to spill some of the beans (the rest of the puzzle he puts together himself) and we find out that what we’ve been seeing up to this point has NOT been a charming little island, but instead a simulation. That’s right! We’re in the Matrix! Okay, more specifically we are inside a video game. Which video game pray tell? Well it turns out that IN THE REAL WORLD McConaughey’s character is actually a dead army veteran who left behind a wife (Anne Hathaway) and a son (Patrick). His wife remarried an abusive construction worker (Jason Clarke) and so he spends all his time programming this video game where his dad is still alive, his new dad is a dangerous mob connected monster instead of some abusive loser, and his mother is a wealthy femme fatale instead of… well we don’t really get an idea of what Real World Anne Hathaway is like, but I’m sure that Patrick put just as much exaggeration into her character as he did everything else. Now things are starting to come together as the somewhat unbalanced way that the characters were drawn start to make sense from the perspective of a confused and angry teenager who is finding a way to escape the horrors of his real life. This does raise a few questions however about whether Patrick is directly controlling McConaughey and whether or not he truly has any free will, but if we’re gonna let Wreck-it-Ralph slide on that stuff, I think we can let it slide here! Anyway, McConaughey starts to question everything around him and begins to see where the “seams” are in the programming which starts to react in a rather hostile manner to his break in the routine. His “role” in the game as it were is to catch the fish, and entertaining the idea of murdering someone is clearly going against the programming at which is why he’s getting the ire of the NPCs that populate the town who keep telling him he should just catch the fish, and he even runs into a few… let’s call them “traps” that are intended to keep him on the right path. This is also a rather confusing point in the narrative as it’s clear that Patrick is the one programming all of this… but it’s also clear that the scenario here about McConaughey killing Jason Clarke is what he wants… so did he add this scenario to the game? If so, why is the rest of the game telling McConaughey not to do it? That is something I wish the movie had a better grasp on, but in any case, despite ALL the resistance he gets from the other NPCs and whatnot, he does manage to kill Jason Clarke in the most symbolically ridiculous way possible. He takes him out on the boat, manages to get the Tuna called Justice onto one of his poles, and hands the pole to Jason Clarke without strapping him in properly which causes him to be pulled overboard and dragged down to the bottom of the sea… by Justice. GET IT!? This is where things take a dark turn as while this is going on, Patrick has taken a knife that his father once owned (a knife we see Virtual McConaughey use frequently in the movie) and stabs the REAL WORLD Jason Clarke to death off screen. Now this raises questions as to whether or not these things were happening simultaneously, if McConaughey was being directly “controlled” by Patrick as he simulated killing his own step-dad or if this may have been some bug Patrick witnessed that inspired him to do it, but I won’t get diegetically nit-picky here because the thematic thru-line itself is rather consistent. Patrick feels that he needs to TAKE JUSTICE by killing Jason Clarke, and that attitude is reflected in the game as well as this specific scenario he either intentionally made or just somehow managed to work its way into the code he already wrote. The movie ends with Virtual McConaughey getting a phone call from Patrick who says he’s gonna rewrite the game, and moments later a Virtual Patrick shows up. The two reunite, the credits roll, and the house lights turn on before anyone has a chance to really grasp just what the heck it is they witnessed! Now as I said in my review, I did enjoy this movie before the big twist when it was just a run of the mill Cohen Brothers knock off, and I enjoyed it after the reveal in terms of understanding the metaphor and what they were trying to do with the concept. Maybe it’s not particularly deep, but I did find at least a few neat ideas about video games and how we can relate to them with the text of the film, so let’s go over some of those now!