The idea of life flashing before one’s eyes is almost a cliché, but what if everyone else could see that montage after someone is gone? Moreover, what if one’s entire life was stored on a microchip ready to be edited and presented in all its warty glory? Or shame, as the case may be. Robin Williams got to explore this conundrum in the 2004 film, The Final Cut.
The movie starts with what’s obviously a flashback. A boy, Alan is playing marbles, and another kid, Louis, walks up and asks him if he can play, too. As they’re walking around later, Alan tells Louis that he’s in town with his parents for the day. The two of them explore an abandoned foundry (Bad idea, kids.) and Alan decides to walk across a board that’s been stretched over what looks like a ten-foot deep hole (Really bad idea, kids.). No surprise, Louis panics when he tries to follow Alan, and falls to what is apparently his death. Alan is shocked and terrified, and as he and his parents drive away later, he’s still wiping away tears. The film doesn’t make it clear if Alan said anything to anyone about what happened, but there’s no way to walk away from something like that without being haunted.
The next thing seen after the opening credits is the rather cryptic Cutter’s Code:
- A Cutter cannot sell or give away Zoë footage.
- A Cutter cannot have a Zoë implant.
- A Cutter cannot mix Zoë footage from different lives for a Rememory.
Hmmmm. No idea so far what a Zoë is, but interesting.
After that, we see a birth…from the baby’s point of view. The doctor and nurses are very happy to see him, and his mother is crying tears of joy. “His name is Danny,” she says. The type at the bottom says, “D. Monroe, 0 years, 0 days, 0 hours.” There are also little blips of various moments thoughout D. Monroe’s life, like playing with his brother in the backseat of his parents’ station wagon, or riding a bike.
Meanwhile, Alan Hakman (Robin Williams) sits in the corner of a darkly furnished room that almost looks like a mausoleum, taking notes in a tassled black notebook. A middle-aged man watches the D. Monroe vignettes, enraptured. He loves the music. He wants to know if a certain fishing trip he and Danny took with their dad will be in there, and is happy to know he can make requests.
After the man leaves, Alan watches some more of D. Monroe’s footage. When he sees a clip of him beating a woman, he quickly hits the delete key and slaps the laptop shut.
Alan is a Cutter, and a Zoë implant is a microchip inside one’s head that records their entire life. One in twenty people have these implants, and it’s big business, with bright, perky salespeople and hints on how to tell one’s children that they have a camera inside their head. When a person with a Zoë implant passes on, a Cutter takes the lifetime of footage recorded, and sits in front of a machine called a Guillotine and edits and trims the film to make a Rememory for the deceased’s family and friends. It’s like those funeral video montages on steroids. They even have special theatres for exhibiting these Rememories. Anything that might be damaging is cut out, and the deceased is made to look as wonderful as possible, even if they were horrible people.
While he is called the best Cutter in the business and seems very matter-of-fact about it all, Alan can’t help but be affected by what he sees. When he’s at Danny Monroe’s Rememory showing, he spies a beautiful Asian woman consoling Danny’s widow. Instead of seeing it as just a nice moment, the Zoë footage of Danny sleeping with this Asian woman zips across his mind, and he flinches.
Not everyone is on board with Zoë implants and Rememories. Protesters line the sidewalks in front of Rememory theaters, carrying signs that say things like, “Live In the Moment,” and “Remember For Yourself!” People with facial tattoos like war paint stare at Alan on the subway as if they want to hurt him. Even those who have a measure of appreciation for what Alan does have mixed feelings. Alan’s girlfriend, Delila (Mira Sorvino) tells him that she was disappointed in her ex-boyfriend’s Rememory because it wasn’t the way she wanted to remember him. In spite of these hiccups, Alan and his fellow Cutters, Thelma (Mimi Kuzyk) and Hasan (Thom Bishops) are comfortable with what they’re doing, and consider the most ardent naysayers to be fanatical hippies.
Everything changes when Alan is assigned to make a Rememory of Charles Bannister of EYE Tech, the company that manufactures the Zoë implants. Naturally, this is a high-profile job, but then again, Alan treats all his projects with the utmost care. The first thing is to talk to Bannister’s widow (Stephanie Romanov), Jennifer and daughter, Isabel (Genevieve Buechner). There’s an air of secrecy around the house, which, quite honestly, seems futile when talking to the guy who has Bannister’s entire life on video.
Other people are a bit too aware of the significance of the Bannister case. Alan is approached by a former Cutter, Fletcher (Jim Caviezel) who offers him $500,000 for the Bannister footage, which Alan naturally refuses, but Fletcher won’t take no for an answer. He and a creepy German guy stalk Alan and even ransack his apartment to try and get the Zoë chip.
That’s scary enough, but Alan is really sent over the edge by two other things. Double spoiler alert: He spots his childhood friend, Louis, in the Bannister footage, and finds out he has a Zoë implant himself, which is, of course, a carnal sin for a Cutter. I’m not going to give away anything else, except that from that point on, Alan is both a man on a mission and a man on the run.
Robin Williams gives an excellent performance in The Final Cut. He was an intense actor, but he couldn’t be pigeonholed–he was able to bring the same energy to dramatic roles that he did to comic ones. His comic side did peek through the tiniest bit, though. It’s implied in the film that Isabel Bannister was abused by her father, and when Alan comes to talk to her about her dad, she’s extremely tense until he asks her about her dollhouse and tells her how his own parents died when he was very young. The scene is one of my favorites, because it shows that Alan’s a caring person. It’s probably the only part of the movie when his face relaxes and there’s a little fun just under the surface.
While The Final Cut is an esoteric film, it’s not on the line of Darren Aronofsky with lots of disturbing imagery. There are no throbbing human brains or deathly pale men in black trench coats and fedoras. Any discomfort it sets forth comes from the ethics of not only impassionate professionals interpreting the lives of total strangers, but the idea of having to measure everything one says or does because it might be recorded. Alan’s fellow Cutters think people’s caution about this makes for fun cocktail chitchat. They’re either numbed to or unaware of what the world has become. I’ve heard it said that without truth, a society is sick, and The Final Cut is a cautionary tale about what happens when society manipulates truth to suit an agenda.
When he reviewed the movie, Roger Ebert’s beef was that it leaves plot arcs unfinished. Maybe it does, but I don’t know if that’s a bad thing. Sure, in terms of story it may not wrap up in a nice, neat little package. However, The Final Cut does leave us to judge for ourselves about the issues it raises, a luxury the film’s characters don’t have.
This film is available on DVD from Amazon.