Thursday, September 6, 2018

Alien Code

Estimated read time: 7 minutes
Every once in awhile a movie comes along that leaves you scratching your head.  It has to be good because days later, you're still scratching your head trying to make sense of what you saw.  When I was a kid, two movies had me scratching my head and, over forty years later, I'm still scratching my head.  I don't care how much you might think you understand 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) or A Clockwork Orange (1971), I bet you still scratch your head over some parts of those movies.  Alien Code joins the ranks of these head scratching classics.

If you like your science fiction movies with aliens made realistic with expert makeup or special effects pulled off with state of the art CGI, Alien Code is not for you.  The aliens look like slimmed down aliens I've seen in Twilight Zone ("To Serve Man") and Lost in Space ("Invaders from the Fifth Dimension").  An explosion is depicted as a freeze flash of red light and a quick cut to the next scene.  You get the idea - low budget.

If you like your science fiction to make you think like the classics from the Golden Age of Hollywood did, Alien Code is for you.  It has the effect of leaving you empty and unsettled before the end credits begin to roll.  The acting is certainly not low budget.  Kyle Gallner's portrayal of Alex, the main character, as the cocky, carefree cryptographer taken to the brink of death as a result of his interaction with the aliens is nothing short of a memorable performance.

The movie begins with a tried and true plot line and cardboard cutout characters.  A coded message is recovered from one of our satellites, a satellite that we hadn't even built and launched yet.  The government hires a top notch cryptographer to decipher the code, which turns out to be instructions for building a machine.  If it weren't for the opening few minutes of the movie, this fifteen minute or so scene would have you reaching for the remote. What was the opening scene that keeps you glued through the character introduction part?

Alex, the main character who dang near makes the movie a one man show, comes home to his apartment and is startled by a dead body on the floor.  He rolls the body over's him, thinner and more gaunt, but him all the same.  He holds an envelope marked, "Watch me," and inside the envelope is a flash drive.

With an introduction like that, you don't hit eject.  You bear through the stale character introductions knowing (or at least believing) there is going to be more to the movie than shady government men protecting military secrets as they build a super weapon or something.

Fortunately, the movie spares us of macho military men breaking the rules to get what they want.  Even better, the movie spares us of macho military women breaking the rules to get what they want.  The closest the movie gets to those stale stereotypes is with the government agent, Rebecca, played by Mary McCormack.  McCormack brings a refreshing change to the image of a woman playing a traditional man's role.  As the woman in the "Men in Black" team, she played a stoically stern character without trying to be a man.

The first third of the movie is dedicated to developing Alex's character as he's hauled off to a secret government facility to decipher the strange codes.  You get enough of Rebecca to lend the story line believability without overdoing the evil government stereotypes.  It's when Alex is returned home after deciphering the code that the story takes a twist.  Aliens visit Alex and from their short, but terse, conversation, you know you are in for something more than evil aliens trying to overthrow the macho military and takeover the world.  You sense you're in for a much more philosophical story line.

When the aliens pay Alex a visit, both sit on the couch straight as a board and question him in soft monotone.  As the questioning intensifies, Alex becomes noticeably agitated and confused like a crab in a steam pot.  
 (Transcribed best I could directly from the movie, Alien Code.)
(Alien 1): We're curious.

(Alex): Do what?

(Alien 2): We are curious.

Still can't talk about it.

(Alien 1): These questions do not betray the parameters of your contract. want to know why I took the job?

(Alien 1): Yes.

Yeah.  I took it because you paid me.

(Alien 1): You did it for money?

No.  I didn't do it for money.  I actually did it for the use of mouthwash.  [frustrated pause]  Ahh, yeah, yeah.  I did it for the money.

(Alien 2): You acted in no part out of a sense of altruism?

Altruism?  [stutters]  I'm not curing cancer, ok?  I...I decrypted a message.

(Alien off screen, possibly 1): Your decision was purely selfish....

Ok, look.  I've had a mother of migraines for the past week.  I need you guys to help me out here.

(Alien 1): You're in need of help?

What do you want!

(Alien off screen, possibly 2):  We are curious.

(Alex, pause of disbelief, mutters): Jesus Christ.

(Alien 1): You agreed to decipher the code for profit much like your previous work implementing backdoors in security programs.  The outcomes of your actions do not concern you?

The outcomes?  It's a job.  If I don't do it, someone else will.

(Alien 2): What did they ask you?

What?  What?

(Alien 2): What did they ask you?

Why know what?  Can I see some identification?

(Alien 1): Identification?

Yeah.  I'd like to see some.

(Alien 2): Do you feel responsible for the harm that will come from the weapon?

The weapon?

(Alien 1): Will identification make you feel more comfortable?

(Alien 2): The weapon that will be constructed from the blueprints.

(Alien 1): Will it make you more compliant?

What are you talking about?  What weapon?

(Alien 2): The blueprints you decrypted.

(Alex, frustrated): I deciphered blueprints.

(Alien 1): Is that something you base trust on?  [pause]  You did not know?

No.  I didn't.  I did not know this.

(Alien 1): How do you feel now that you know?

(Alien 2): Do you feel regret?

It's a job.  I needed the money so I took the job.  There was no ulterior motive.  It was just a [expletive] job so whatever I deciphered was not my creation and I'm not responsible for what happens next.

These are two HR folks I wouldn't want
to face in a job interview
(Alien 2): Does it scare you?

(Alien 1): Do you trust us?

(Both aliens in unison): Have you thought about your own path?


The aliens never moved...not even a flinch.  Their questioning remained at a soft monotone without a hint of inflection in their voice.  Alex grew more and more agitated as he was questioned, fidgeting and running his hands through his hair as if he wanted to get up and far away.  The scene played so convincingly, I wouldn't doubt that many viewers squirmed in their chair as if they were the ones being interviewed.  I know I did.

This is the first, but not last encounter Alex had with the aliens.  I could say, "Spoiler alert," and tell you more, but I won't because you'll read the spoiler alert despite my warning.  You just have to go get the movie and watch it.

The movie is very philosophical, but not in-your-face philosophical.  It might leave you questioning why you have done the things you have done and why you do the things you do now.  It might leave you feeling unsettled and empty.  At the very least, it will get you thinking about it for days afterwards.  It's been a month since I seen the movie and I still think about it.

TL;DR Folks:
The movie is longer than this review.  You can always wait for the comic book release.

For your viewing pleasure:

Posted by A Drunk Redneck

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