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Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal, Sandy Dennis
Directed by: Mike Nichols
Written by: Ernest Lehman
Married couple George (Burton) and Martha (Taylor) arrive home from a party. Martha informs George that she’s invited a younger couple that she met there — Nick (Segal) and Honey (Dennis) — over for more drinks. Everyone is already quite drunk, but George and Martha get increasingly more drunk and verbally abusive towards one another.
Honey says that Martha told her about she and George’s son upcoming 16th birthday. This angers George. Honey runs to the bathroom to throw up from drinking too much. The night goes on and on with more upsetting moments.
George and Martha engage in a series of increasingly escalating games of psychological manipulation that makes their guests feel more and more uneasy. Finally, it becomes clear to Nick and Honey that the overarching game is for George and Martha to invent more and more details about their imaginary son, but to never mention his existence to anyone else. It seems that Martha lost this round, because she answers the title question, saying "I am."
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Starring: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clark
As one Reddit commenter summarizing the movie very succinctly describes it, “Black box gives superpowers. Black box plus monkey equals human. Human plus black box equals star baby. Star baby is awesome.” To expand on that a little, watch the four videos on the website Kubrick 2001, which delve into how it’s not just the monolith (black box) that speeds along evolution, it’s actually the discovery and improved development of functional tools that advances first apes, and then the human race.
The question is, though, what are the three monoliths that appear in the film — one one Earth, one on the Moon, and one on Jupiter? Since they have right angles, they aren’t naturally occurring in nature. As Roger Ebert wrote in 1968, “Who put [the monolith] there? Intelligent beings since it has right angles and nature doesn't make right angles on its own.” The monoliths are merely a device Kubrick uses to advance the plot, Ebert argues.
It’s not just the monoliths’ possible meaning that throws viewers into a quandary. The ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey usually confuses viewers the most. After Dr. David Bowman (Keir Dulles) defeats HAL 9000, the supercomputer that conspired to take over the humans’ spaceship, he receives a signal from the monolith on Jupiter. Bowman travels toward the monolith only to be captured by a vortex of light.
Rather than finding himself in a sort of Gravity situation, which viewers could much more easily understand (we all know that a human left adrift in space would just perish among the glowing stars and big, black holes of nothingness), Bowman winds up in a bedroom. He watches his older self eat his final meal and die in the bed. Bowman becomes one with this older version of himself. After he dies, another monolith appears by his bed. He reaches for it and becomes the “starchild,” a glowing fetus that is transported by float beside planet Earth.
“Now where did the bedroom come from? My intuition is that it came out of Kubrick's imagination; that he understood the familiar bedroom would be the most alien, inexplicable, disturbing scene he could possibly end the film with. He was right. The bedroom is more otherworldly and eerie than any number of exploding stars, etc.,” Ebert writes by way of explanation.
It’s quite the trip.
Soylent Green (1973)
Starring: Charlton Heston, Edward G. Robinson, Leigh Taylor-Young
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Stanley R. Greenberg
Soylent Green is PEOPLE.
Altered States (1980)
Starring: William Hurt, Blair Brown
Directed by: Ken Russell
Written by: Sidney Aaron, Paddy Chayefsky
Edward Jessup (Hurt) is a Harvard scientist who starts experimenting with sensory deprivation tanks. He wants to take his work further, though, so he starts working with psychedelic mushrooms — only the type he uses makes everyone who takes them have the exact same trip.
One night while tripping balls in his tank, Jessup reverts back to the state of a Simian man. He climbs out of the tank and wreaks havoc on the lab and the campus security guards. A pack of wild dogs chases him to a local zoo, where he eats a sheep for his dinner. Jessup then returns to his human form.
His experiments transform him into increasingly troubling altered states. In one instance, he’s basically primordial soup; in another, he’s a vortex of light similar to the ones in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The only thing that can bring Jessup back from these states is his wife, Emily (Brown). She starts going through these altered states with him; sort of like the ying to his yang, or the fire to his brimstone.
In Jessup’s final experiment, he becomes a sort of pre-life protoplasm. His wife is the flesh into which the protoplasm fuses, and together, they form human life. It’s through this melding that they emerge whole, and Jessup learns to value his own humanity as well as his wife (they had been on the brink of divorcing).
Starring: James Woods, Deborah Harry, Peter Dvorsky
Directed by: David Cronenberg
Written by: David Cronenberg
Max Renn (Woods) runs a Toronto TV station that airs sleazy shows (softcore porn; hardcore violence), but he’s always looking for the next sensational phenomenon. His coworker Harlan (Dvorsky) is responsible for pirating signals from other broadcast stations, and he picks up a show called Videodrome that he thinks is coming from Malaysia. On Videodrome, anonymous victims are brutally tortured before they’re murdered in a chamber. Then, Randy Jackson says, “A little pitchy, dawg.” (That last part isn’t true.)
Max thinks Videodrome is the future of TV and orders Halan to start pirating it for their station. He also gets Nicki Brand (Harry), a radio host, to sleep with him after she admits she’s turned on by the events depicted on Videodrome. Around the same time, a pop-culture analyst named Professor Brian O'Blivion (Jack Creley), who only appears on TV but is never seen in real life, predicts that television will one day supplant human life.
Harlan tells Max that the signal had actually been scrambled, and Videodrome’s broadcast is really coming from Pittsburgh. Nicki goes there to audition to be on the show, which Max actually believes is fake. When Nicki doesn’t come back to Toronto, Max gets in touch with a feminist pornographer (Lynne Gorman), who tells him that Videodrome isn’t fake. It’s not just a TV show, either, it’s a political movement that Professor O’Blivion is behind.
Max finds O’Blivion’s office, The Cathode Ray Mission, and discovers that it provides homeless people with shelter, food, and water as long as they watch television, which was part of O’Blivion’s vision for the future. He’s actually been dead for over a year, though, and what people have been watching are hours of video he pre-taped in the event of his demise. O’Blivion’s socio-political movement, the Videodrome, is a war for the minds of North Americans.
The means of mind control is, of course, television; namely, viewing the Videodrome TV program. The show carries a signal that gives viewers malignant brain tumors. Max, who viewed Videodrome, also starts having hallucinations during which he thinks there’s a VCR in his stomach. O’Blivion didn’t want it to be used this way, though, but when he tried to stop his partners from doing so, they killed him.
Harlan actually showed Max Videodrome in order to get him to put it on the air as part of a government conspiracy to eradicate North America of homeless people. They insert a tape into the VCR in Max’s stomach (which has become real) that makes Max murder his coworkers. When he’s about to kill Professor O’Blivion’s daughter (Sonja Smits), who’s trying to stop the government’s plan to eliminate the poor, she’s able to reprogram him to instead kill Harlan, who’d been part of the government conspiracy to put Videodrome on the air.
Max shoots Harlan, then runs to an abandoned harbor. Nicki shows up on a television, saying that in order to completely defeat Videodrome, he has to "leave the old flesh behind." On the same television, we see Max shooting himself in the head. The set explodes, but when it does, it leaves behind bloody, human intestines. We then see Max, who watched the version of himself on TV shoot himself, do the same thing.