“There are more neurons in the brain than stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. Pretty fucking cool, right?”
The speaker is the masked hacker Vix – real name Mason (Chris Mason) – whose discourse endlessly relates the workings of the human mind to more global, even cosmic issues – and whose ‘jams’, filmed live and broadcast to the Internet, get millions of hits and a polyphony of comments from a like-minded army of would-be world savers. Just before Mason makes his speech online, announcing his intention to “reprogramme the human brain” and “hack the human mind” as a means to bringing the destructive ills of the world to an end, a 3D title appears on the screen in glowing digital green reading ‘Mad Genius’ – and while it might be natural to assume that Mason, in his fox mask, is that mad genius, the title is followed subliminally by a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flash to another that read “Finn’s World”. Finn (Scott Mechlowicz) is the id to Mason’s ego, the appetite to his intellect, the Tyler Durden to his sense of alienation – at first the voice in Mason’s head with whom he constantly converses, and then, as events unfold, taking on a visual and then even a tangible form, connected to Mason in much the same way that the two brain hemispheres displayed on Mason’s computer are linked. Surrounded by a freakish community of fellow hackers, Mason is grounded only by Sawyer (Spencer Locke), the new girl on the block who is sceptical that tampering with the brain – and more specifically with Mason’s brain – can fix the world.
In other words, genius or not, Mason is quite mad (and occasionally violent too), with his own mind split between more than one personality fighting to find either dominance or balance for their conflicting goals. We are never quite sure whether Mason’s drugged-up mission to steal an already stolen piece of experimental tech from murderous loner Eden (Faran Tahir) and to use it to alter all of humanity is taking place in the real world or entirely in our protagonist’s messed-up mind – but his quest for connection exposes the dangers of solipsism and psychosis in a digi-world where identity’s fluid nature can easily lead to megalomania and meltdown.
Edited by Mike Hugo with glitchy exuberance and crammed with irrational leaps that could only come from the imagination of a geek like Mason, writer/director Royce Gorsuch’s feature debut Mindhack is SF psychodrama at its most disorienting. Even as it showcases annoyingly righteous characters whose haunts are supposedly ‘cutting edge’ computer-hipster (chipster?) communities that already look as dated as the sets and costumes of Hackers (1995), there is always the sense that what we are seeing may be only Mason’s narcissistic self-image, as though the has hacked our minds too, and trapped us in his virtual world – while what is actually happening in the reality beyond Mason’s window remains tantalisingly beyond our reach.