Remember Me came out earlier this week and I marathon’d it over the last two days. I don’t have a good read on the final product–my short review is that the first third of the game is amazing and it really tapers off from there.
The reason that I’m making this post is that an incredibly beautiful thing happens around the 70 or 80 minute mark. I talked a little bit on twitter how the androids/gynoids of Remember Me triggered some kind of teary aesthetic sublime for me, but that was a creeping feeling that sat around me like a cloud for the entirety of the game. The moment that I’m talking about wasn’t like that–it only happened once, and when it happened I smiled the biggest goofy smile. Then I did it over and over again.
Nilin, the protagonist of the game, is climbing along some ledges in the upper levels of Neo-Paris. It is typical Assassin’s Creed and Uncharted mashup climbing, Tomb Raider-style, and my focus during the section was less on the climbing and more on the sweeping Neo-Parisian landscape that I could sometimes see in the background.
Then Nilin jumped through a sign. I made a gif–watch:
You can also see it in this video right after the 29:00 mark.
I like this because it is the kind of realism that Robert Yang was talking about in his Let’s Play video of the first room of the first Half Life. While I enjoy the environment design of Remember Me‘s Neo-Paris, it is mostly working on the level of Yang’s broken lightbulb–when you show me the Arc de Triomph in the middle of a slum with buildings all around it, I’m supposed to feel a kind of shock and awe; it is a cyberpunk future predictive realism based on the shared genre assumption that the future will be the same but a little bit more shitty. The “realistic” feel is coming from my relation to the genre, not from how the character is relating to the environment or how the environment is relating to itself.
I’m making a (hopefully) productive link here between Yang’s video and Daniel Morgan’s rethinking of Andre Bazin’s theories of realism in his “Rethinking Bazin: Ontology and Realist Aesthetics”. The short of Morgan’s argument is this: we associate Bazin with a naive realism in film that privileges long shots and a strong indexical attachment to the physical, material world. Morgan’s intervention in the past 60 years or so of film people reading Bazin is that a close reading of Bazin’s body of work reveals that he was less concerned that naive realism and much more concerned with an internal consistency of the world. Bazin doesn’t want a 1:1 reproduction of world on film. Instead, there is a desire for a realism of relationships, of parts to wholes, of actors to actors and objects to objects.
When Nilin jumps through the sign, an event that only occurs in this one moment despite the game being filled with ledges and billboards, I really felt the internal relationships of Remember Me were being demonstrated. It was real.
I will probably have a proper review of this at some point? Who knows.
Here’s another ZOOMED IN PICTURE of the jump from the other direction.
Hi! A little bazinian aside (I haven’t played the game yet): did you read the somewhat new translation of What is Cinema? by Timothy Barnard? I’m not really familiar with the usual Gray’s translation, but the few passages I read were quite different than the French version, especially for Ontology of the photographic image, and much of this association of Bazin with a naive realism seems to derive from Gray over-emphasis about the 1:1 reproduction of reality on film. I didn’t read Barnard either, but it’s supposed to be more faithful to the original. I just put online something similar this morning, about Bazin, so I couldn’t resist the little self-promotion…
I’m not sure if it is a translation error–after all, plenty of French-speaking American critics made the naive realism move for a long time before anyone kicked back against it. I think it was more that there was an acceptable reading that was supported by all kinds of academic systems and we all know how easily those paradigms change (they don’t.)
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I don’t quite understand your interest in the jump. I thought the sign itself is merely just another transparent hologram – standard Augmented Reality tech in 2084, right? If so, what then is its significance (if any) in terms of the concept of Realism?
It is an interactive moment of consistency. I think I’m pretty clear about this in the post.
It’s really interesting that you bring Bazin in here; I’ve been thinking about him recently. As far as I can tell (undergrad reading, so take this with lashings of salt), one of his main reasons for advocating the static long take and coherence of space was so that the viewer was able to exercise her ‘interactive’ discretion over the film, choosing intelligently where to look and imagine rather than being whipped through a series of disconnected manipulations (a la Uncharted 3, in whose faintly incoherent belief-defying theatrics the invisible hand of the designer becomes inescapably visible).
As it happens, one of my highest-marked pieces of work at undergrad level was the concluding essay of my film theory unit where I examined Hitchcock’s use of long takes in ‘Rope’ and the sadly but understandably neglected ‘Under Capricorn’ with reference to the long take vs decoupage / realism vs formalism theory wars (or rather the film crit history caricature of those wars). Basically, Hitchcock both fulfils and completely destroys Bazin’s idea of what the long take does. On the one hand, in both films, the swooping movement of the camera serves to reinforce a coherent sense of space and dimension; a more geographical/indexical space for ‘Rope’ and a more abstract emotional/imaginative space (eyelines, distance between characters, blocking, etc) for ‘Capricorn’.* But at the same time these camera styles do not allow the reader much of a roving eye; they withhold information and focus attention in exactly the same way a shot breakdown would. Indeed, I think at some point Bazin actually notes that a long take with a moving camera would just recreate trad decoupage – a challenge which Hitchcock then fulfils and kind of overflows or explodes as well.
* Like, check out this scene! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sX1JjcHnUqU#t=1h18m00s
What we are seeing here – and this is kinda wild in the context of 40s and 50s melodrama – is not a flashback, very strikingly not a flashback, but a human being articulating a past which is inaccessible to us and inaccessible to the mute, stony spectator who occasionally blocks our view of her – at length, without cuts, for 8 minutes or so.
P.S. RE Yang’s two types of design realism, you might find this amusing:
“In one gun game presentation the spokesperson drew our attention to the fact that the gun’s scope was dented, as if this inclusion of an imperfection from our reality added meaning to the game.”
(From Simon Parkin’s E3 article) http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2013/jun/17/e3-2013-games-ps4-xbox-one?CMP=twt_gu
I think your reading of all this is correct, but the “naive realism” that Morgan is responding to is the kind that you’re providing. Essentially, Bazin only cares about the long take and the movement of the eye in a few essays, but we’ve latched onto those essays and, as Morgan argues, read them poorly. If you’ll email me I’ll hook you up with the essay so you can chekkitout.
Strange, I read something similar about The Rope recently, in a bazinian context, but I can’t remember where. This elusive text (it may be Bazin himself) was saying that the movie uses, for the most part, a classical decoupage, with Hitchcock moving the camera around instead of editing to constantly re-frame the action (apart from the actual reaction shot we all forget because it’s supposed to be one long take when it really is not). The spectator has no real freedom, since Hitchcock often prefers to show only one small part of the scene, retaining a firm control on our knowledge of the situation, as usual with him. Incidentally, Bazin is not found of Hitchcock, not so much for a lack of “realism”, but more for what Bazin called Hitchcock’s a priori vision of the world that restricts reality to its role in the narrative (Morgan’s essay, easily available online by the way, touch upon this subject).
Interesting, and thanks both. The essay you’re talking about sylvain sounds very faintly like it might be V.F. Perkins? Shot in the dark, but it rings with what I remember…