Interfilm: Revenge, the Movie
by Ken Sanes
Two companies that tried unsuccessfully to exploit the fascination with torture and revenge are Interfilm Inc. and Sony New Technologies, which produced an interactive movie full of graphic portrayals of violence and acts of degradation. The movie was noteworthy for a number of reasons. It was the first commercial interactive film and it was also one of the most morally and aesthetically bankrupt movies ever widely distributed, offering the public a pornography of hate of a kind that is becoming increasingly common.
The movie centers around giving audiences opportunities to vote for the kind of revenge that will be visited on its villains, by pressing buttons next to the seats. Here, in a press release, the company described the idea behind the movie: "Sit for a moment and think of all the injustices done to you during your life....Makes you mad to even think about it. Imagine if there was some way you could get back at them, someone you could hire to get revenge for you. Fun idea for a movie, right? Now imagine if, while watching that movie, you, the audience, could decide what villains to pursue, you could decide the methods of revenge and you, the audience, could decide the ultimate payback."
The movie fulfills this promise with a perverse enthusiasm. Among the choices offered to viewers is a sequence in which the hero and revenge-master, Mr. Payback, metes out poetic justice to someone who parks in a handicapped space by injecting him with a drug that will temporarily paralyze him. In another, he punishes a villain who subjects her victims to sexualized, sadistic tortures, by dumping a large quantity of raw sewage on her as she screams in horror. She is then left to stew in the liquids.
At the multiplex where I saw the movie, a publicist was standing in the lobby, encouraging people to come back around and see Mr. Payback, after they attended whatever other movie they were there to see. Her efforts to get people to see this revenge movie were directed at children and young people.
The movie turned out to be unsuccessful, in part because voting with other members of an audience over what will happen next in a story doesn't give one a sense that one has control over the action. But before it expired, it offered a disturbing vision of one possible future that only a novelist like Stanislaw Lem could invent: children pressing buttons to choose which tortures would be meted out to characters in a simulated world.
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