“The Last Jedi” – my experience

This is not a review. There will be no spoilers.

I had not intended to see The Last Jedi on its opening day. I anticipated the theaters would be jammed. Also, there were was a lot scheduled at work both today (Thursday) and tomorrow (Friday), including a #ScienceOnHudson talk and the lab’s holiday party.

Just as I was about to head home after the #ScienceOnHudson talk, I got a text message from a friend of mine. He couldn’t make it to the 10:30PM show, and wanted to know if anyone would like to have his ticket. My initial thought was that the film wouldn’t end until 1:30AM, which is a bit much for a work night. I drove home and got into my pajamas.

Then I saw a new text that said my friend and turned in his ticket for a refund. Several other friends said “We’re sorry we won’t see you tonight”. That was when I became aware it was a group trip to see the movie.

My geek cred returned with a vengeance. I went to the AMC web site to see if I could get a ticket for the newly-available seat. I had difficulties with the site (common for that site); while the seat was free the purchase didn’t go through due to a web error, yet the site reserved the seat and I couldn’t select it again.

As I struggled with the site, a new block of seats suddenly opened up. My guess is that a group of friends planned to go together, changed their minds, and refunded their tickets. I purchased one of those seats. I changed into my outdoor clothes and drove to the theater.

When I got there, no one had claimed those new seats, and the seat I had tried to reserve earlier remained empty. It wasn’t crowded after all!

I said I wouldn’t review the film, but I will comment on the performances of Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. After being associated with their iconic roles for decades, they could have just phoned it in. They didn’t. They both brought a new energy to their performance.

I seriously believe that both Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill (the former in particular) should be considered for nominations for Best Supporting Actor. If Heath Ledger could win posthumously, I see no reason why Fisher couldn’t.

And now it’s after 2AM, I’m still a bit wired after the film, and I have a lot to do tomorrow. I shouldn’t be writing this blog post… but here we are!

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

I’ve written video-game reviews from time to time, but this is the first one for which I’m giving a trigger warning: discussion of severe mental health issues.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is an unusual video game in that the lead character is psychotic. I’m not using the term in its popular (and incorrect) sense of meaning “psychopath.” Senua is clinically psychotic: she hears voices in her head, experiences illusions, is compelled to match patterns visually, and occupies what is (probably) a world of her own. I say “probably” because the game does not bother to distinguish between the “real” and the “fantasy” of Senua’s world.

Within the game, Senua is a Pictish warrior woman. She’s experienced horrific tragedy and abuse. She’s on a quest in the wilderness to come to terms with what she’s witnessed. On the way, she fights demons, solves puzzles, and reviews her past. More than I won’t say, because the peeling away of Senua’s world view and her past is part of the game.

The game is not exploitative, either of Senua as a female character, nor of mental illness. The creators of Senua, Ninja Theory, consulted with mental health professionals and interviewed people with psychosis. According to the extra video that comes with the game, in viewing the almost-finished game both the professionals and the patients confirmed that the game matched their experiences.

The game is relatively short, as modern high-quality video games go. It took me about 12 hours to complete it; experienced video game reviewers reported finishing it in six to ten hours. The graphics are excellent, especially the remarkable motion capture of Senua (played by Melina Juergens). I was moved by Senua’s facial expressions as she pleads directly into the “camera”, her eyes piercing yours.

Senua is the only human figure rendered in the game. The remaining human characters are inserted as video overlays. It’s an unusual effect that reinforces the idea that they’re all people she’s seeing in her memory.

Before you rush out an get Senua (it’s available for PS4 and Windows), be aware that this is a video game, not just a travelogue through a troubled mind. The gameplay reflects Senua’s mental state: No help is given in how to play the game; if you want to know what the controller buttons do, you have to check the options screen. There are no maps or display overlays. There are no direct instructions for combat; however, the voices in Senua’s head will often give you strategy tips.

The game can be punishing, especially for a clumsy video gamer such as myself. You are bluntly told near the beginning of the game that there are only so many times Senua can die in combat or fail at certain platforming puzzles. After that point, the darkness consumes her, which means the game save data is deleted and you must play the game from the beginning again. You aren’t told how many times you can fail; I failed about 20 times and managed to get to the end.

I’ve written a long game review for a game that’s among the shortest I’ve played because I think Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is worth it. The goal of the designers was to expose and destigmatize psychosis. I think they succeeded.