Cyberpunk Review » Strange Days

February 11, 2006

Strange Days

Year: 1995

Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow

Written by: James Cameron (story and screenplay) & Jay Cocks (screenplay)

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: High

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: High

Key Cast Members:

  • Lenny Nero: Ralph Fiennes
  • Lornette ‘Mace’ Mason: Angela Bassett
  • Faith Justin: Juliette Lewis
  • Max Peltier: Tom Sizemore
  • Philo Gant: Michael Wincott
  • Rating: 7 out of 10

    DVD Cover


    Overview: Written by James Cameron, Strange Days is a near-future (now in the past as it takes place the day before Y2K) film noir written that puts the “punk” in cyberpunk. This is truly a great underground ride. Strange days is about a down and out former vice-cop named Lenny (Ralph Fiennes), who’s life has long since seen its better days - he now makes his living, such as it is, by selling illegal VR experiences (sexual and high tension experiences) that can damage the brain if played too often. In this “near future,” people can capture VR “experiences” by placing a “Jack Thursby-like” thing on their heads (called a Squid) to capture their emotional experience. Ralph wants more than anything else to have his former girlfriend back (played by Juliette Lewis) - who is now in the clutches of a sadistic music producer. During the course of his “practice, Ralph comes upon a data disc that has recorded a murder of a prostitute. Ralph follows the trail, which leads him into the pit of humanity, with seedy scenes, blackmail, murder and rape. Ralph’s friend (played by a very hot Angella Bassett) is the voice of reason in this, not to mention an awesome ass-kicker!




    The Bottom Line: This movie is really more “punk” than cyber, but it does have enough to matter. Besides the rather simplistic recording of memories, Strange Days gives us a potential view of humanity in decline as technology becomes more and more invasive in our lives. On top of this, the seedy near-future settings are great, and all the lead actors in this are terrific, including Tom Sizemore (Lenny’s best friend) and Michael Wincott (the psychopath).

    However, I do have to knock one point away due to a 4 year predictive window - in 1995, I cannot imagine anyone thinking that the year 1999 would have resembled anything like this. Yes, Snow Crash had kicked the 3D Virtual Worlds movement into high overdrive, but no, 4 years was way too quick for a prediction such as this.

    ~See movies similar to this one~

    Tags: cyberpunk movie review StrangeDays

    This post has been filed under Awesome Cyberpunk Themes, Hot Cyberchicks Kicking Butt, 7 Star Movies, VR Movies, Cyberpunk movies from 1990 - 1999 by SFAM.


    June 23, 2006

    Dixie Flatline said:

    For me Strange Days is almost as close to cyberpunk as cinema has managed to get so far. Just forget about the whole year 2000 thing and instead treat it as a view of our world set in the near future. The VR technology is simplistic, however this makes it much more realistic than some of the way-out-there stuff other people come up with. I can cleary see such a technology being feasible in the next 100 years. I cannot see a full perfect VR simulation of our complete world (e.g. as in the Matrix) to be feasable at all.

    Strange Days has a lot of cyberpunkish elements and themes - the lone guy who in this case isn’t a hacker but a black market dealer for squid tapes. The sprawling city in a constant state of decay and civil unrest. The cold-hearted indifference with which human life is treated throughout - people just rape and kill so they can have a VR recording of it to sell on the black market etc. etc.

    SFAM said:

    Hi Dixie, while I like Strange Days, I’d say there’s a good 20-30 movies and animes that easily come LOTS closer to at least my understanding of cyberpunk. It does do the trashy future (which is now 6 years back) and seedy underground thing well though.

    February 14, 2007

    Com Wedge said:

    This film is like the inspiration for a lot of things in my life. In the year 1999/ 2000 I was Lenny (Without the selling of illegal goods). This is by far my favourite film of all time so let me set some things straight. Kathryn Bigelow - Then ex wife of James Cameron - Co-wrote the film with Cameron. Kathryn came up with lines like “The only time a whore should open her mouth is when she’s giving head”. For a woman to break the mould of the societal feminist view of prostitution like that is priceless.

    This film shows off Angela Basset’s kick ass nature, I mean literally kick ass.

    The POV of the camera in the Chinese Restaurant scene – totally original.

    This film deserves a much higher rating for cyberpunk themes than a 7. The reasons listed below:

    • VR was in its infant stages at the time however each day we say the technology grow and ultimately consume the web. Integrating it into a surveillance technique for the police and then having an ex cop peddle this technology on the street for a VR experience that can fool all of your senses! - CYBERPUNK.
    • The delivery device itself very believable even though it’s CYBERPUNK.
    • The end of the world at the year 2000 consumed by technology - CYBERPUNK.
    • Use of this technology for the sick advantage of a homicidal brain altered sickafanti – CYBERPUNK.
    • The music and the soundtrack – mostly CYBERPUNK (Some Rap, Metal and Gypsy fusion too)
    • A satisfying ending like most films could only dream of? Just great f**king writing.
    • Vita - Totally CYBERPUNK – “We tried to find a smaller girl to beat the shit out of you but it was short notice”.
    • Helping a guy to jog on the beach again after loosing his legs – awe.

    Anyhow my two cents.

    Raise it to an 8 at least!


    SFAM said:

    Hi Com Wedge, just a clarification - the 7 star rating is a quality of the film rating. This is different from adherence to cyberpunk themes or visuals.

    That said, prior to your comments, I had themes as “medium.” Based on your most excellent post, I’ve changed that to “high” and will add it to the “Awesome Cyberpunk Themes adherence” grouping. I definitely agree with you that it certainly deserves a high correlation to themes, and I love the story about Cameron’s wife making contributions to the script!

    EDIT: also, like a number of other earlier reviews on this site, I still intend to go back at some point and expand the review to include more screencaps and so forth. It’s sort of wierd now looking back at some of these reviews.

    Com Wedge said:

    Sweet you rock!

    June 19, 2007

    ghostjacker said:

    I think Tom Sizemore is the psychopath. Wincott was just paranoid, imho.

    June 23, 2007

    TA said:

    I mostly love cyberpunk movies, but I hate this one. If you like CSI and those other ‘forensic’ TV shows you might like it. The connection is that Hollywood is looking justifiable ways to give us more and more explicit brutal acts of rape, violence, and murder of women. They’ve stumbled on the ‘forensic’ narrative as a justifiable story-telling device (the show is about the ‘science’ of forensics—yeah right) within which to place brutal acts of violence. Strange Days does something similar, by using the squid as a plot device, the camera can actually take the position of the rapist and murderer. It’s almost like putting the squid on our heads and letting us share in the rape. That’s disgusting (really), and it’s the raison d’etre of this movie. The cyberpunk trappings are just a shell. With all the violence in the world, especially against women, big-budget Hollywood (the right-wing side–WWF, Fox, etc) is trying to find new ways to terrify us, again especially women. As far as cyberpunk movies go, it’s really a shame, I can imagine a million other plots using this dystopia, and the squid device, why this unjustifiable one? As for its existence as a vehicle of terror against women, there’s no excuse for it, and we should be confronting the producers and studios.s terrible one? As an instrument of terror, there’s no justification for this flick.

    SFAM said:

    Hi TA, Just for the record, I’ve never been able to get through a CSI episode, but, um, I still like this movie. And I must say, on the violence against women scale, comparatively this film just doesn’t rate that high. There are so many examples far worse than this that I’m not sure I agree with that justification for discounting it. Furthermore we have an incredibly strong women’s role here: Angela Bassett’s character is hardly a victim, nor is she unidimensional.

    But I don’t at all disagree that there are disturbing aspects to this film. The question is whether the rape is portrayed as an exploitative porn-fest (your point above - that this is really what Strange Days is about) or whether it fits into the narrative of a larger story (meaning whether it is something more than a device). We probably differ on the answer. I do agree that violence against women pervades our society now - the fact that Strange Days just doesn’t rate that highly in my mind when compared to far worse examples may be the essence of the problem you are highlighting.

    September 10, 2007

    Marc McKenzie said:

    I love this film.

    I remember seeing this in the theater (sorry, just say “James Cameron” and “Kathyrn Bigelow” and I’m there). I still think it was one of the best films of 1995, and Angela Bassett truly shines as Mace. Not that the rest of the cast slums it–they are all excellent. The soundtrack also rules, especially the ending theme.

    Perhaps the one thing that could (well…it does) spoil people’s view of the film is the rape/murder of the character of Iris. Truth be told, it is not done to titilate or just be a throwaway act–it is raw, brutal, and becomes the driving force behind Lenny’s actions for the rest of the film. Then again, there have been even more explicit scenes in such recent horror films such as SAW and HOSTEL…

    November 7, 2007

    Meghan said:

    I agree with TA. Even though I do enjoy this film in the sense it allows you to understand how brutal technology can be in the wrong hands. The first time I watched it, I thought the rape seen was almost like a porno.
    The fact how Iris ’seems to be enjoying it’, I thought the pov shots were wicked in the first few scenes however this one is strung the point where I reached for the control to fast forward it.
    This also links in to when Faith appears to be raped but it’s then revealed to be consented. This films touches borderlines of what we are not mean to enjoy. As creepy as that sounds, as a female (and a complete feminist and love psychoanalysis, oh yeah bitch!) it puts you in the place of the rapist and it’s seen to be ‘acceptable’ to enjoy, as your not the one doing it.

    ps: Also like to back this up with the first time lenny watches the tape in the back of the car, Lornette looks at him strangely when he gasps like he’s enjoying it.

    bye xx

    November 17, 2007

    Jackie said:

    I think this film could’ve fared much better, without the scene where the guy rapes the girl with the electric baton. As far as I see it, it was completely uncessary to the plot, and frankly offended and scared the s**t out of me.

    The rape scene at the end I feel was necessary to the plot, to explain the whole idea of experiencing something while at the same time experiencing what the other person is experiencing. Also, it makes you feel rather happy when the guy who raped her get’s his brain fried into only processing TV snow as a visual.

    I think the film really says alot about the issue of virtual reality being so real, that you don’t know what reality is anymore. I’m really into video games, and used to think virtual reality would be awesome. I don’t really know anymore, I mean the psychological effects from immersing yourself in a false world. It really creeps me out.

    January 7, 2008

    Deckard said:

    TA, are you a rape victim or something? You obviously have a feminist agenda against this movie. Rape and violence (sexual or otherwise) are a reality of human nature and have been for thousands and thousands of years.

    To leave them out of film would be nothing more than an Ostrich sticking it’s head in the sand and ignoring the reality that makes up part of the human condition.

    Anyways, I just think you need to get off the high horse and see the movie for what it is… a movie.

    January 9, 2008

    Da5id said:

    That’s response wasn’t exactly called for. “Are you a rape victim?” What makes you think that’s an appropriate question? I think you’d fall somewhere on the Replicant side of the Voight-Kampff with that one…

    Anyway, I love Strange Days and I think the hyper-violence is something calculated and important to the story it’s telling. Without the violence and rape the movie would be just another detective flick but with some good music. Instead it’s a downright frightening view of not near future-tech, but near future-humanity. Any quick perusal of the underbelly of the web will show you that humanity is a scary freakin’ animal that is “into” some sick shit. Strange Days doesn’t pull any punches, it shows us how depraved technologically armed humans can be. I think it’s right on the money in that regard.

    In 1995 cyber-sex was nothing more than text chat, in 2008 it can include USB connected devices activated by a partner on the other side of the planet. Cameron obviously chose 2000 as the setting because of the Y2K thing, but I have no doubt that the predictions this movie makes about the abuse of “virtual” technology will soon be fact.

    February 8, 2008

    Com Wedge said:


    I actually totally agree that this rape scene in this movie discussed me. However like many other have stated it is not a cheap device in this film. It’s actually very well crafted and integrated into the plot.

    Let me ask you this question. Would you have the courage to do everything you could even put your life on the line, if this were to happen to a friend of yours and you saw it and were forced to enjoy it via deployment of the squid technology, to bring the person to justice? That’s exactly what Lenny did.

    Personally I think that with your moral intervention and the fact that you cannot look at this film objectively you would probably be the kind of person who would stab yourself from ear to ear with a hot plasma rod. Yes that’s right you would carefully plan the whole ritual.

    Hehe sorry for the mind control. No really don’t do it.

    In reality if it was me I would probably run and keep it as a bad memory.

    The value of this film is not in the rape scene but the courage of those who choose to stand up against a system of violence.

    BTW I thought it was pretty ballsy of Ralph Finnes to join the mile high club. Looking forward to that myself :) Hey at least its not mile high rape?

    I love to blur reality with cyberpunk its so…Mechaphorical.

    March 14, 2008

    Jason Sorrell said:

    I really don’t see the Y2K timeline as an issue with this film. Its science-fiction after all; it should be assumed that this is an alternate timeline where a breakthough in neural interface occurs that has not in our own timeline. It is a cool little story in its own little continuity bubble. Anyone who complains that the film made in 1995 fails in recognizing the pace of technological advances and therefore looses points is just looking for a reason to complain and is probably really dull at parties.

    March 17, 2008

    Sebastian A said:

    While I do agree the rape scene was a bit unnerving, I disagree that it was gratuitous and unnecessary. Just look around you and you’ll find much worse even on the news. If all you got out of that is violence against women, then you might be looking at it from a limited point of view.

    That scene added tons of depth and emotion to the whole VR thing in the movie, and it would definitely not be the same without it. It showed just how far the tech could be used in sick and twisted ways. I was about to write out my take on the ending, but realized it could spoil the movie for unsuspecting readers. So i’ll just ask, would your emotions and thoughts have been the same during the scene towards the end had it not been for the rape at the beginning?

    May 21, 2008

    Adam Daub said:

    Fantastic film, one of Hollywood’s best cyberpunk-related high budget films.

    Also, I agree with Jason, but only because the people who bitch and moan about setting and realism shouldn’t be watching films anyways, they should just go outside and soak in all the imaginationless reality of everyday life. I hate when people complain about silly things like this. “Yeah like that would ever happen.” is a ridiculous response to something that’s clearly fictional. Fiction is being plagued with “couldn’t happens” constantly. I believe this is huge reason creativity in cinema is at a record low.
    People are too concerned with fine details to embrace their imagination.

    May 27, 2008

    iamlove said:


    I’d say Max was more of a psychopath than Philo. Philo was more of a paranoid prick and possible sociopath, but Max was just fucked beyond repair.

    Lenny says it best:

    MACE: So, this guy’s not a psycho?

    LENNY: No, Macey, he’s a psycho. To do what’s on that tape…He’s not a well-adjusted human being.

    I think, even though Philo paid Max to do his dirty work, he didn’t expect him(Max) to be as disturbingly brutal as he was, but he was hardly sympathetic about it. Philo’s head was already fucked from doing too much playback; all he cared about was covering his own ass and saving his reputation from going in the toilet. Max, on the other hand was playing his own twisted little game with Lenny the whole time. Aside from the sick shit he was capable of, he was actually acting like he was helping Lenny when he was just fucking with him right from the start. When a psychopath wants to get off, it’s bad for everyone else, especially if you’re within close proximity, which, unfortunately, most of the cast was close with Max or affiliated in some way with him, which was his greatest advantage in deception.

    This is a great film. I think it’s one of the most underrated films from the 90’s and easily one of my all-time favorites. I’m on the bandwagon that says this deserves at least an 8 out of 10, since the only fault I found was the near future being way too near. It just made it too dated to be believable, but thankfully, one of the greatest perks of movies is that they have the power to suspend disbelief.

    August 20, 2008

    synthetic_creature said:

    fucking loved this movie!! love this site!! am off to dig up some more gems i never heard of!! :D

    November 25, 2008

    Katalyst said:

    I thought this movie was amazing! It is very close to my interpretation of Cyberpunk and involved many of its elements. Although it is not the closest thing to cyberpunk for me, It is an awesome movie with a great vision.

    May 26, 2009

    snikpih said:

    All this discussion and not one mention of “Brainstorm” (1983)
    - the whole record/playback of other people’s experiences comes from that movie.

    August 24, 2009

    GaB said:

    CyperPunk, notice the punk in there? Heres a quick history lesson, most of the early fantasy and sci fi stories had a polite & childish menality. Part of Cyperpunk will always be nasty & realistic given a sci fi element.

    The point being, the rape brings the punk.

    This movie is great. The acting is subreb. A honest story with good plot.
    Their was alot of possiblities in this movie. Groups running around making all kind of plans for the y2k. The internet and computer graphics had shot forward greatly between 1990 and 1995 so, the techinology was possible . The corrupt police angle was huge, especially with the LA riots just a few years old.

    This movie worked then, this movie would have worked alot more if the 2000 slant hadn’t been played up so much. While low on cyperpunk qualties, the movie itself is very deserving a watch.

    June 7, 2011

    Tim said:

    Wow just watched this movie for first time after it being recommended to me as it falls in the cyberpunk genre. Absolutely loved it. It’s got that camp feel from the 90’s that made me love hackers but also got a very dark and grungy undertone. The storyline and acting was surprisingly decent and throughout the whole movie I was trying to predict what happens but the ending really threw me off. I think there’s a lot of ideas in this movie that are played on and can be over looked. The whole cops vs the people thing, apartheid, the consequences of VR, trust issues, there is a lot going for it if you analyze past the surface. There were even some funny well placed one-liners thrown in there. I would strongly recommend this to any cybperpunk/sci-fi fan as long as they can go in with an open mind (it’s not hardcore sci-fi or anything but it’s worth a watch even if it’s just to form your own opinions on the quality).

    April 11, 2012

    Strani Filmovi said:

    Film picture some vision of futurity. The world is turning into a big party. Strange Days is one of my favorite films. It have some magic. Ralph Fiennes was great on the role of Lenny Nero.

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