Presented in partnership with the Goethe-Institut.
Why is it that cinematic depictions of people interacting with computers are almost always at least faintly ridiculous? Graphical interfaces can be counted on to look slightly off, slightly wrong, similar to but not quite identical to any we’ve seen in the real world. For films set in the future this is less of a distraction; novelty and strangeness are expected and kind of required. But for a movie that aims to capture something about how we live now — like Who Am I–No System Is Safe, which screens this morning at the Coolidge — such dissonances can undermine the viewer’s suspension of disbelief.
Coding — and hacking — present a related problem for filmmakers, who can hardly be expected to weigh down their narratives with detailed technical explanations of what’s going on in the etherworld. An analogous conundrum, concerning economic rather than computational esoterica, was well-handled in last year’s The Wolf of Wall Street by having Leonardo DiCaprio tell audiences point-blank that his financial scams’ finer points were boring and beyond them.
Who Am I solves the problem, or tries to, with speed, noise, and a welter of plausible-sounding but half-baked geekspeak, a cliché-ridden glossolalia favored by CLAY (Clowns Laughing at You), the team of hacker-misfit supermages that anchors the film’s twisting conspiracy narrative. Big data, big government, big business, big techno — the strategy is to employ blaring bombast as cover for legerdemain.
But if hacking is magic, then montage is a mystical discipline in this breathlessly propulsive action diatribe out of Germany, a loose, not unloopy hagiography/horror-show about Fawkes-faced anonymites raging (and preening) deep within the infernal machine. Questions of trust and identity loom large here, but their treatment is frustratingly shallow; director Baran bo Odar seems uncertain how much he can trust his audience’s interest not to flag in the absence of slick but obnoxious action sequences that shed a lot more heat than light.