Chapter 17: Calm Down Baby, This Is What I Do


James Cameron is arguably the most important director of Cyberpunk-themed films ever to walk the face of the planet. Now, that's a bold statement, but consider his writing and directing credits for a moment: he wrote and directed 1984's The Terminator, 1991's sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and the Disney feature T2 3-D: Battle Across Time; he wrote and directed the most action-packed of the Aliens films, 1986's Aliens; he wrote and developed the Dark Angel TV series; and he's also the writer of 1995's Cyberpunk masterpiece, Strange Days.

Oh, sure, he's also the guy responsible for 1997's Titanic, but I think we can forgive him for that, seeing as it's the number one movie of all time. And even if you disallow that, you have to acknowledge that 1989's The Abyss and 1994's True Lies at least make up for three hours of whiny romance on a doomed ship. But enough about that.

Thankfully, there are no ships, icebergs or DiCaprios in Strange Days. What you get is a fairly grim, mildly hopeful look at the near future, now several years past, a time filled with race riots, police brutality, and creepy dealers peddling electronic drugs on the streets of Los Angeles. Much like Max Headroom and William Gibson's Neuromancer, Strange Days makes a point of hitting close to home; this isn't a story about the future, so much as it's a story about the present-becoming-future. It's half cautionary morality play, half sci-fi crime thriller, and it's well worth two hours of your life to check it out.

1:06 AM DEC 30, 1999

The film opens with eyes, a common theme in Cyberpunk films and an obvious homage to Blade Runner, where eyes play a major role throughout the film. But this time we're not looking at eyes, but out of them, riding along inside the mind of another person as we see the world as they are seeing it, realtime. It quickly becomes clear that this isn't just a bunch of kids out for a joy ride; they're committing a crime, and it quickly goes bad when the cops show up, chasing "us" up to the roof. They're right on our tail, as we run for the edge, jump to the next building, and... miss, plunging to our deaths.

Quick cut to two men in the back of a van, one obviously upset at what he's just seen, tearing something off of the top of his head. His name is Lenny Nero (played by Ralph Fiennes), and he's a fixer.

LENNY NERO is low thirties.  Handsome.  Charming.  And you
better check to see if you still have your ring after you
shake with him.  He is wearing an expensive Italian
jacket, and what he thinks of as a "power tie." His Rolex
isn't real.  His greasy hair is too long and curls around
his collar.  He needs to shave.  A little sleazy.  But he
has energy, and heavy street smarts.

Lenny is sitting on the hood of his '97 BMW 1035i.  Tick
is facing him, sitting in the back of his beat-to-shit
70's van.  There are a lot of tapes and tech stuff piled
inside the van.  Lenny has a Haliburton case open next to
him, like a drug dealer.  In fact the whole setup looks
like a drug deal, but it's not.  Though it is illegal.
The case holds Lenny's personal playback deck, his trodes,
and a rack of the little tapes in which he deals.  They
are about the size of DAT tapes, and hold about 30 minutes
of sensory experience... everything a person sees, hears,
and feels... recorded directly from the cerebral cortex at
the moment it is happening.

Lenny is purchasing memories from Tick, a techie who apparently lives and works out of the back of a van filled with various bits of computer detritus. In this case, Lenny is also extremely unhappy with what Tick has just shown him (via the equipment mentioned in the script excerpt above) -- a snuff film, in which someone (in this case, the subject) is actually killed. These are known as Blackjack clips, and Lenny wants nothing to do with them, proving that even low-down, dirty, scum-of-the-earth fixers can have morals.

Lenny's currently cruising around Los Angeles in his car (a BMW in the script, actually a prototype 1997 Mercedes Benz in the film), wheeling and dealing on his cell phone, but you wouldn't know it was LA from what he sees out of the windows: rioting, looting, death, mayhem, the sort of ultraviolence you'd associate with wartime Beirut or something out of a post-apocalyptic nightmare. Except as we are continually reminded, this is not the future, but right now. New Year's Eve Eve, December 30 1999.

                         TALK-RADIO HOST
          ... it's a little after 2 am on
          December 30th, 1999... the second to
          last day of the whole darn century,
          and the phone lines are open.  Dan
          from Silverlake, you're on the air.

Transition to a rougher section of town.  Buildings roll
by endlessly, tagged by gangs in graphic tribal patterns.
some are burnt-out ruins.

                         DAN FROM SILVERLAKE
          Uh, hi.

                         HOST
          So Dan, are you looking forward to
          the New Year?

A building is burning out of control.  In the foreground,
silhouetted, a drunk sleeps soundly on a bus-bench.

                         DAN
          Not really.  I mean what's the
          point?  Nothing changes New Years
          day.  The economy sucks, gas is over
          three bucks a gallon, fifth grade
          kids are shooting each other at
          recess... the whole thing sucks,
          right?  So what the hell are we
          celebrating?

Anyone who's watched the news during the past few years knows how true all of that truly is, particularly in California, where gang violence, inflated prices and the like are all commonplace, mingling hand in hand with the movie stars and shiny glimmer of Hollywood. Chrome and black, cyber and punk. And our anti-hero, Lenny Nero (Nero, as in Not-Hero, or as in "Fiddled while Rome burned"), is in the middle of all of it, buying and selling sex and violence and trading them like drugs. Sex, Drugs and Rock-n-roll are all the same thing nowadays.

The technology Lenny is using, as we'll soon learn, is what's called a SQUID, which is an acronym for Superconducting Quantum Interference Device. This setup consists of four basic elements. First of all is the SQUID Net itself, which goes on top of the head, sending a signal to the second element, the receiver, which holds the tapes, or clips, the third element. The fourth element is, of course, the unit that you use to "listen" to the tapes that others have recorded. Lenny gives a class on how it all works to a new subject:

As Lenny works, fitting the network of sensors over
Eduardo's head, he holds class.

                         LENNY
          Superconducting QUantum Interference
          Device.  SQUID.  Got it?  There's
          gonna be a test.

                         EDUARDO
          Hey, fuck you, man.

                         LENNY
          Easy, Eduardo, easy.  Preserve a
          sense of humor at all times.  Okay,
          the receptor rig... what I'm putting
          on your head... sends a signal to
          the recorder.
                  (Lenny holds up the
                   recorder)
          See we call it "being wired," but
          there's no wire.  You gotta keep the
          recorder close... five, six feet
          away max, like in your jacket pocket
          by the bed or wherever you're going
          to close escrow, know what I mean?

As we've already seen, this technology has a wide range of applications -- from recording violent criminal activity, to fulfilling the masturbatory urges of users who aren't willing to risk catching a disease by seeking out prostitutes. It should come as no surprise that the technology was originally used by the police, as a way to replace the "body wire" so commonly used in sting operations. Furthermore, it isn't really a surprise when we learn that the chief purchaser of this now black-market technology, Lenny Nero, also used to work for the police.

Speaking of police, our first up-close-and-personal introduction to them is hardly a good one, as we're thrust into the middle of a chase scene. Iris, who is quite clearly a prostitute, is running through a subway station, crying and in obvious distress, her red dress torn, her makeup streaked, her feet bare and bleeding since she left her high heels behind long ago. A tense moment in the subway station ensues, ending with an eruption of action and violence as she lunges aboard a parting subway car, has her wig ripped off, and barely gets away with her life. But it's not over, not by a long shot. As the two cops on the platform discover, it's just beginning.

CLOSE ON THE CAP inside the wig: there is an intricate
network of sensors in a grid over the entire underside of
the wig.  The sensors are connected by wires, in a pattern
like the veins of a leaf, bundling to a small, flat metal
box, the size of a cigarette case.  It is a SQUID NET.

Iris was wired.  Spreg just stares at the SQUID NET, eyes
going crazy wide.

                         ENGELMAN
          Oh shit.

Iris, in a total panic, tries to call Lenny for help, but he just misses her call, and doesn't bother to check his messages when he stumbles in the door and collapses on the bed with a SQUID Net and a bottle of vodka. In direct contrast to his slick life on the street, Lenny's personal life is a shambles. His apartment is a mess, a tiny one-bedroom filled from floor to ceiling with empty pizza boxes, assorted trash and cartons full of tech equipment... most prominent among them being stacks of SQUID tapes marked "Faith." Lenny selects one at random and hits PLAY.

We immediately get a real sense that this is all very sad and lonely and wrong, as Lenny relives masturbatory fantasies with what is evidently a long lost girlfriend, Faith Justin (played by Juliette Lewis). First she skates around with us on the boardwalk, dressed in a skimpy top, bikini panties and leg warmers. Then she takes us back to her place, where the expected happens, and we both strip and get into bed and...

2:14 PM, DECEMBER 30

Thus far, this has all pretty much just been character development, but already we get a sense that things are not as they should be. And when Lenny wakes up that afternoon, grabs a popsicle for breakfast and turns on his television, we understand why. Rap singer Jeriko One, frontman for the band Prophets of Rage, has been murdered along with two other people. For Lenny, it's hardly a blip on the radar, but since we all know the rules of television news in movies, this is Important. And we'll soon see why. Last night, Lenny was buying, but tonight he's selling, and his night begins at the Coral Lounge.

INT.  CORAL LOUNGE

The decor is sort of Polynesian.  Goofy tropical motif
murals on the walls.  The place has a mixed bag of
customers, including upwardly mobile low-lifes who have
graduated from the streets and use it as a kind of office.
It is a crossroads for druggies, upscale hookers, junior
entertainment suits slumming after a day in the pressure
cooker.

This is where Lenny really shines. He knows everyone in the place, has dealt with most of them before, and he moves around like a shark in Pacific waters. He's comfortable here, among people, among the lowlifes. Here he's not just another guy living in a dingy one-bedroom apartment on the wrong side of town. He's king here. He has something these people want, and we get to see him in action almost immediately as he hawks his wares to a lawyer who's wandered into his web.

                   LENNY
          Look, I want you to know what we're
          talking about here.  This isn't like
          TV only better.  This is life.  It's
          a piece of somebody's life.  Pure
          and uncut, straight from the
          cerebral cortex.  You're there.
          You're doing it, seeing it, hearing
          it... feeling it.

                         LENNY
                    (cont'd)
          I can get you what you want.  You
          just have to talk to me.  I'm your
          priest, your shrink, your main
          connection to the switchboard of
          souls.  I'm the Magic Man, the Santa
          Claus of the Subconscious.  You say
          it, you even think it, you can have
          it.  You want a girl, you want two
          girls?  I don't know what your thing
          is or what you're curious about...
          you want a guy?  You want to be a
          girl... see what that feels like?
          You want a nun to tie you up?  It's
          all doable.

While the lawyer is sampling Lenny's wares, Iris is paying a visit to Lenny's car, which is illegally parked out front of the Coral Lounge. She's disheveled, frightened, and in possession of a SQUID tape, which she drops into Lenny's car. Inside, Lenny is being approached by Max Peltier (Tom Sizemore), who is the spitting image of the Cyberpunk Solo:

A man in his late 30s: longish hair, no shave since the
weekend, army jacket bulking over a massive frame.  A
daunting figure as he approaches the bartender.

Max scares Lenny's client away by pretending to be a cop, which seems like just a silly little act until it's gradually revealed that both Max and Lenny used to be cops themselves before they began their lives on the streets. Lenny used to be in the Vice squad (which explains how he got access to the SQUID technology he now sells illegally), and Max was evidently involved in dangerous work as well, since he reveals that it was a bullet in the back of his head which forced him to retire as a cop. Though he draws a pension, it's not enough to live on, so it's pretty clear that he's taking on other "jobs" as a Private Investigator to make ends meet.

Iris finally works up the courage to enter the bar, and manages to pull Lenny outside in an attempt to get him to look at the tape she dropped in his car. But she's scared off by what she thinks are the police before she can explain more to Lenny, and unfortunately Lenny has his own problems, because it's not cops around the corner -- it's a tow truck. Lenny's attempt to bribe the driver with a fake Rolex watch fails, leaving him no choice but to use his "Phone-a-Friend" lifeline.

INT.  CAR - NIGHT

A hand pulls a ringing cellular out of a black jacket.
Follow the hand and phone to the face of a black woman.
LORNETTE "MACE" MASON.  Late twenties.  Striking features.
Hair pulled back tight to her skull.  She is driving, but
we don't see the car, or anything but her face.

                                            CUT TO:

EXT.  CORAL LOUNGE - NIGHT

A black limo pulls into the lot.  It is a Continental
armored stretch, downsized from today's standards.  The
door opens and Mace gets out.  She is compactly built,
dressed in black slacks, a conservative black jacket,
heavy rubber-soled shoes.  She glances around as she heads
for the Coral Lounge entrance, the unconscious sweeping
gaze of a security professional.

Mace, like Max, is obviously a Solo in the Cyberpunk sense of the word, selling her body to make a living. Everyone in Strange Days is selling something -- Max, Iris and Mace, their bodies; Lenny, other people's minds. And it's this body-mind dichotomy that forms the foundation of Lenny and Mace's relationship, in much the same way as Case and Molly work together in Neuromancer. Max, then, is something along the lines of an Armitage/Corto, driving the action in more ways than is immediately apparent. He's also, like Corto, a bit off the edge of sanity, even drinking a toast to the end of the world:

                         MAX
          To the end of all things!
                  (slugs down the shot)
          You know how I know it's the end of
          the world?  Because everything's
          been done, every kind of music's
          been tried, every government's been
          tried, every fuckin' hairstyle.
          How you gonna make it another
          thousand years, for Chrissake?

In spite of his depressing world view, Mace takes Lenny with her for part of her rounds, where they briefly discuss the morality of Lenny's "business." They stop off so Mace can pick up Mr. Fumitsu, a client, which is where Lenny runs into his old boss, Commissioner Palmer Strickland (a minor encounter, but as with most things in Cameron films, it's obvious foreshadowing). Along the way, Lenny winds up dealing SQUID Clips with Mace's client, which totally pisses her off, but Lenny smooth talks his way out of it and convinces the client to come with him to the Retinal Fetish club. Which is, not coincidentally, where Lenny's ex-girlfriend, Faith, is playing with her band tonight.

Mace's comments to Lenny are pure Cyberpunk lifestyle:

                         LENNY
          I thought we were friends.

                         MACE
          No, see a friend is more than one
          person constantly doing favors for
          another.  You just suck people along
          with your schemes and your scams and
          your slick act.  Well I'm out.  I
          got a kid, I got rent, I got an ex-
          husband someplace who doesn't send
          me a dime of support... I'm just
          trying to hold on here.

                         LENNY
          So am I.  Just trying to get by.

                         MACE
          No, you're just trying to get off.

The trip to Retinal Fetish is amazing to watch on screen, but it's even more amazing to actually read James Cameron's scriptment of Strange Days, because it gives you a real sense of how good a Cyberpunk writer he really is:

Retinal Fetish.  The place is a fringe hangout, a
converted schmata factory transformed into a warren of
dark rooms and corridors off the main dance floor.  A
thundering labyrinth.  Steel cage-like partitions of
chain-link give the place a harsh, concentration-camp
atmosphere.  The music is a bass tech-thump, and the
clientele are young and on the rough side.  Cybergrunge.

There are many large video screens running a continuous
montage of wild graphics and images... a flurry of
disturbing videos: MTV baptized by William Burroughs.

The Fetish is a street-tech hangout, a meeting place for a
lot of digital-underground types that Lenny knows.  You
can buy and sell what you want here: illicit hardware and
software, as well as chemicals for the wetware (brain).

Lenny's at home in the Retinal Fetish; he walks right past the bouncers and begins working the crowd and meeting with his contacts. But it's clear that the real reason he's here is Faith, and he quickly makes his way over to her table... where she's sitting with her manager and new boyfriend, Philo Gant, and his entourage. You wouldn't know it from the movie, but Mr. Cameron has snuck in an homage to Neuromancer. Check out the names of the bodyguards:

Gant and Faith are flanked on either side by an entourage
consisting of music types, various hangers on, and Gant's
personal security force of four: JOEY CORTO, a whippet-
thin skinhead; DUNCAN, a none-too-bright armbreaker in the
classic mold; a massively built ex-jock type called WADE
BEEMER; and a sixteen year old Asian stone fox, CINDY
MINH, aka 'VITA', possibly the most lethal of the four.

Corto, eh?

At any rate, Lenny (predictably) gets tossed out of the club by Beemer, and he's outside all of ten seconds before he breaks a window and climbs right back inside and back to work. First, he pays a visit to the DJ booth, where he gives the DJ, Tex Arcana, a Clip of a man running barefoot on the beach. It's the first time we've seen the technology used for non-sexual, non-violent purposes, and it's a credit to Lenny Nero that it's from his hands that such a gift was bestowed. We get a real sense that maybe his slick act is nothing more than an act, albeit one he believes himself most of the time.

Arcana gives Lenny an envelope with his name on it. Inside the envelope is a SQUID Clip, but before he has a chance to see what's on the tape, the lights go down and Faith comes onstage. Juliette Lewis (who plays Faith) can't really carry a tune, but she does have the charisma and the raw sexual energy that was required to bring Faith to life. She does it here, demonstrating exactly why it is that the Rockerboys and Rockergirls of the Cyberpunk world are so powerful in their own way. Can we really blame Lenny when he creeps backstage to see her after the performance?

It becomes clear through their verbal intercourse that Faith knows something she's not letting on. She seems to know that Iris is in trouble, but won't say in what way. She admits that Gant may be using the SQUID too much, is becoming an addict, but throws that right back in Lenny's face, and he knows he's guilty of using his own product. She also reveals that Max is following her around, at Gant's insistence. And right here we have all the pieces to the puzzle right in our hands, although of course we don't know it yet, and neither does Lenny. Not that he really has time to go over it, because as soon as he's done chatting with Max he gets accosted by Beemer, who takes him out back and beats him silly. After he crawls back into Mace's limousine for a pitiful ride home, she does little to help stop up his wounds, physical or emotional.

                         MACE
          You're some piece of work, you know
          that.  Just calmly backstroking
          around in the big toilet bowl, and
          somehow you never let it touch you.
          I mean, between Vice and this so-
          called occupation you're in now, you
          must've seen it all.

                         LENNY
          I have crawled through the gutter...
          through every wrinkle in the human
          brain.

                         MACE
          What I'm saying.  But you still come
          out this goofball romantic.

                         LENNY
          It is my sword and my shield, Macey.

As Lenny talks to Mace, he defies her earlier order not to use the SQUID in her car, and pulls out the tape that he was given at the club. At first, the black-and-white video appears to be just another "B&E" tape (short for Breaking and Entering), but it quickly turns bad when the person wearing the SQUID rig sneaks into an adjoining room and begins stalking a woman who's pacing around inside. It quickly becomes evident that the woman is Iris, and the man stalking her is not just paying her a friendly visit. Lenny, growing increasingly uncomfortable, yells for Mace to floor it, to go to the Sunset Regent hotel, and she does. But it's too late.

As Lenny watches in horror, Iris is incapacitated with a stungun, handcuffed to the towel rack, brutally raped and strangled. What's more, she's being jacked into the SQUID output at the same time, amplifying her own pain and forcing her to feel pleasure at her own violation until finally she dies and the clip ends. Mace and Lenny see, across the street, Iris' body being loaded into a van, and they realize there's nothing they can do. After Lenny is finished being ill, they take the Clip to Max and ask for his help. If there's anyone who can figure out who killed Iris, it's a Private Detective. Of course, neither Mace nor Max can help him out on this one.

                         MACE
          Maybe he just figures Lenny will
          appreciate what he's created.  It's
          the dark end of the street, Lenny.
          How do you like it now?

                         LENNY
          Jesus, Mace.  Back off.

                         MACE
          This guy is someone you know, one of
          your squid-head contacts.

                         MAX
          Problem is, Lenny knows everybody.

Indeed, Lenny does know everybody, and the first person on his mind is Faith, which is exactly why he heads right over to Gant's place to tell her about Iris. Managing to con his way upstairs by "charm," he does his best to convince Faith to come away with him, so he can protect her. She refuses, insisting that Lenny means nothing to her any more. We start to believe it. Perhaps so does Lenny. Not that he really has any time to think about it, because the moment he gets off of the elevator he gets his ass handed to him by Gant's three cronies.

He sags to his knees.  Not only is this painful.  It's
goddamn humiliating.  And Duncan and Corto enjoy every
second of it.

                         CORTO
          We tried to find a smaller girl, to
          beat the shit out of you, Lenny...
          but it was short notice.

Vita grabs Lenny by his hair and pulls him up with one
rock-hard arm.  She is cocking back the other arm for a
pile-driver punch when...

Suddenly a dark shape materializes behind her.  Mace
drives Vita head first into the steel column.

Duncan lunges in and grabs for Mace.  This is a mistake.
Mace doesn't fight fancy.  And she doesn't fight fair.
She fights to win.  And she is awesomely fast.  Her moves
are street moves, coupled with arm-locks and come-alongs
she has been trained to use as a security driver.

Mace fights like Molly saving Johnny's skin in "Johnny Mnemonic" (the short story, not the movie), quickly and with brutal effectiveness. Then she gets his ass out of there and hauls him back to his apartment, where they take some time to go over the details of the crime and relive a bit of their past. As it turns out, Lenny and Mace have something of a past; Lenny was with the cops who busted Mace's boyfriend, leaving her and her son to fend for themselves.

2:27 PM DEC 31, 1999

Lenny awakens for the start of a brand new day, afternoon being morning to a guy like him. Mace is gone, but Max is on the phone, and after a brief conversation Lenny notices a small envelope outside his window. As expected, it contains a tape -- a SQUID clip. Not wanting to, but knowing he has to, Lenny pops in the tape and watches... as the same person who killed Iris breaks into Lenny's apartment, while he's sleeping, and puts a razor blade to his throat, carving a thin red line across his throat. This must have just happened, in reality, while Lenny was passed out on the couch. Suddenly, a noise in the kitchen. Lenny lunges for his Glock 22 .45 under the bed, loads it with a magazine, and stumbles into the kitchen, acting on memory, reflexes he's mostly lost after years away from a life as a cop, to find... Mace sitting there, drinking coffee.

After a brief stop at Mace's house, the make their way to visit with Tick (the guy Lenny was dickering with when we first met him), to show him Iris' death Clip in the hopes that he can provide them with some new insights. He provides two: first, that the killer evidently has something wrong with his eyesight or his brain, and second, that Iris visited Tick last night, wanting to make a copy of a Clip. Only now does Lenny remember that Iris wanted to show him something the night before, and that it was something in his car... a car that's now been impounded.

Mace drives Lenny to the impound yard as night is just starting to fall on the final day of the year, and after a brief scuffle with a junkyard dog they manage to locate his impounded car and the missing tape. But on the way out, they're accosted by Spreg and Engelman, the two cops who were chasing Iris earlier and who have evidently been following Lenny around. They demand that Lenny hand over the tape, which he does with some reluctance, and just as they're about to be killed, James Cameron shows his greatest weakness as a writer, which is that he always throws in a silly "Deus ex machina" at times like this. This time, it's the dog that Mace maced a few minutes ago, suddenly enraged again; the dog bites Engelman in the leg, distracting the duo for just long enough for Mace and Lenny to knock the cops down and make their getaway. The requisite car chase ensues.

Mace has the big car floored.  She looks in the rear-view
as the truck gains on them.  Mace is doing her thing...
what she's trained for.  Security driving.  She whips some
moves in the big car, but the truck is closing on them.

                         LENNY
                  (holding on)
          Oh no, we're not being followed,
          Lenny, Don't be so paranoid, Lenny.

They hear rounds hitting the car, and look back.  The
truck is right behind them.

                         LENNY
          Shit!

                         MACE
          Take it easy.  The glass is bullet
          resistant.

                         LENNY
          Bullet resistant?  Whatever happened
          to bullet proof?

                         MACE
          Calm down, baby.  This is what I do.

Alas, as is typically the case with Cyberpunk film, the hero's powers will inevitably fail him or her at some point, and that's true for both Lenny and Mace at this point; she makes a wrong turn and puts them at a dead end, and Lenny can't even charm his way out of it on the phone, discovering to his dismay that "911 is busy." Mace tries to clamber out, but the Limo's doors are jammed shut... and getting out would be a bad idea anyway, since the two rogue cops are busy pouring gasoline all over the Limo. With a whoosh, the entire car goes up in flames. Mace decides to handle one emergency at a time.

                         MACE
                  (matter-of-fact)
          This is bad.

                         LENNY
          The gas tank's going to go any
          second!

Mace slams the car into gear and floors it.  The powerful
Lincoln thunders forward.  It crashes through a chain-link
fence and launches right off the end of the pier.  A
fireball plunging in a meteoric arc into the oily black
water.

Inside, they are slammed forward by the impact.  The car
sinks.

UNDERWATER: The car hits bottom, twenty feet down, sitting
there amid the junk.  Shafts of light play down from the
big streetlights at the end of the pier.

INSIDE, Lenny and Mace are in a flooding black tomb.

                         LENNY
          Are you out of your fucking mind?!

                         MACE
          Fire's out, isn't it?

Mace, of course, is thinking far more clearly than Lenny at this point, and she manages to get them out by shooting the trunk open with her shotgun. They manage to swim to the surface, where they are picked up by Lenny's friend Curtis and taken back to Mace's house... temporarily. Lenny realizes that the guys were cops, and he knows that they would have run Mace's license plate through the system, which means that they can easily find her house, and her family. She quickly loads up on guns and moves her family out the door to safety at Aunt Cecile's place, deep in the heart of gang territory.

Here, for the first time, Lenny gets to see what Iris saw two nights ago. But unlike before, we don't see it through Lenny's eyes. He calmly, sadly removes the trodes from his forehead, and convinces Mace to use the unit... her first playback. She's reluctant, but she gives in. And she watches as Jeriko 1 and his companions, including Iris, are pulled over in a deserted part of town. Watches as Jeriko 1 mocks the cops for pulling over the wrong man. Watches as...

Replay starts laughing.  Diamanda stifles a giggle.  Spreg
is white-lipped with rage.  Years of frustration coming to
a head.  Too many disciplinary actions, too many
suspensions, too little appreciation of the tough job they
do.

                         JERIKO
          It's a song about a cop who meets
          his worst nightmare, a nigger with
          enough political juice to crush his
          ass like a stink bug.  You're gonna
          be famous.

Spreg looks around the empty street.  Looks at Engelman.
Down at Jeriko, proned out on the pavement.  Replay's
laughter in his ears.

                         SPREG
          I don't think so.

And shoots him BLAM!  BLAM!  Twice in the back of the
head.  Just like that.

Diamanda screams.  Replay tries to roll to his feet.
Spreg shoots him twice in the stomach.  Replay is
screaming.  Rolling around, holding his guts.

Iris, as we've already seen, manages to get away, running across a set of train tracks and escaping into the subway station. But that's all Mace can bear to watch, as she tears off the trodes and throws them across the room. Both she and Lenny, who's on the phone with Max, know exactly what this could mean -- anarchy in the streets, rioting, murder and mayhem. Lenny is the voice of reason; if they release the tape on New Year's Eve 2000, all hell will truly beak loose. He opts instead to do the smart thing, to head over to Tick's to make a copy of the tape, for insurance.

Lenny's beginning to put the pieces together. He realizes that the person who killed Iris was not one of the two cops. More likely, whoever Iris was wearing for killed her, to keep the cops from finding out. Iris was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. And judging from the fact that Tick is also dead when they arrive at his place, his brain cooked off from an amplified signal, it looks like they're running out of time. Especially if what Max says is really true.

                         MAX
          Smoke.  Rumors.  I've heard stuff
          about a death squad.  A group a guys
          loyal to the hardline school.  Guys
          that've had too many years of city
          hall and the review boards and the
          goddamn media pissing down their
          necks, suspending cops right and
          left, tying their hands... while
          outa the other side a their mouths
          these same people're squealing save
          us, save us, do something you
          fucking morons, crime is totally out
          of control.

Lenny takes this in.  All the fight goes out of him.  This
is just too overwhelming.

                         LENNY
          Jesus.

                         MAX
          Yeah.  So don't walk near me in
          public, alright.

Lenny is too involved to realize it, but Max's delivery is just a bit too precise, rehearsed. We begin to get the sense that Max knows more than he's letting on, and that what he is letting on isn't completely true. Mace is enraged, and wants nothing more than to send the tape to the news, to blow it wide open, to start a war if need be. Lenny, once again, is the voice of reason, even if his immediate agenda is a bit more selfish. If they got to Iris, and they got to Tick, then Faith could be next... followed by them. As Max puts it, "The issue isn't whether you're paranoid... The issue is whether you're paranoid enough."

Returning to the Retinal Fetish, Lenny and Mace grab Faith while Max does his best to stall Gant. As it turns out, Gant has gotten so obsessed with the SQUID that he's wiring up people and having them follow his artists around. If anyone were to find out that he had artists under surveillance, he'd lose everything. So he had Iris check into a hotel room under an assumed name until he could figure out what to do. It appears that Gant had her killed to cover up his own minor involvement.

Before they can make a clean getaway, Gant shows up with his goons and knocks Lenny to the ground, taking Faith away with him and Max to the Bonaventure Hotel for the big New Year's Eve celebration. As always, Lenny's staying in touch on a cell phone, working out a plan with Max, who's monitoring Faith closely at the party. After hanging up, Lenny tries to convince Mace to go with him to the party, but as he gathers up his boxes full of Faith Clips, Mace snaps and throws him against a wall.

                         MACE
          Lenny!  This is your life, Lenny!
          Right here.  Right now.  This is
          realtime... not playback.  Real...
          time.  Time to get real.  Understand
          what I'm saying... she doesn't love
          you.  Maybe she did once, I don't
          know, but she doesn't now.  These
          are used emotions.  It's time to
          trade them in.

Mace's tone becomes more gentle.  We see that her outburst
is, beneath it all, coming from a place of compassion.

                         MACE
          Lenny, memories were meant to fade.
          They're designed that way for a
          reason.

Lenny seems to crumple.  He knows he has to let go.  But
it is so painful.

                         LENNY
          Have you ever been in love with
          somebody who didn't return that
          love?

Mace gives him a look like, jeez Lenny, are you dumb
sometimes.

                         MACE
          Yeah.  Lenny.  I have.

Lenny still doesn't get it, doesn't understand that Mace loves him, and that somewhere inside he loves her too. Perhaps that's because of a promise he made to Faith, a promise he reveals to Mace, and to us. Long ago, when he was a Vice cop, he busted Faith, and realized that she was special, and fell in love with her. And he made a promise to her that he would protect her. And that's all he's trying to do now. Mace understands that. Perhaps better than Lenny himself.

11:07 PM DEC 30, 1999

IT IS THE MOTHER OF ALL PARTIES.  IN AN AERIAL SHOT we see
there must be 100,000 people jamming the closed streets of
downtown L.A.  Arc lights sweep the sky.  There are two
outdoor bandstands, with live music pounding.  There are
lasers, strobe-lights.  People are literally dancing in
the streets... if they can move at all.  Huge projection
video screens are set up all over the place.

LA is connected to other cities all over the world by
satellite, sharing in the celebration in different time
zones.  The excitement has been building all evening as
midnight sweeps across the country toward the West Coast.
It looks like a U2 concert 10 blocks long: a multimedia
blow-out.

Madness in the streets.  And Lenny and Mace are stuck in
it.  The Civic can't move in the middle of this millennial
Mardi Gras.  People swarm around, pounding on the Civic as
they go by, or press their faces against the glass.  It
may be the party of the century, but it looks like the
middle of a third world revolution.

There's no way that Mace and Lenny are going to waltz in through the front door, what with security being as heavy as it is. But as Lenny points out, echoing Mace's earlier words, "Relax Macey, this is what I do." He manages to sneak them in the back way, through the kitchen, and before they know it they're in the thick of it. Max is unreachable, Gant is nowhere to be seen, and it's time to make a decision. Max wants to give the tape, the only copy in existence, to Gant. Mace puts her foot down.

Mace gets very, very close to Lenny, and her voice drops
to an odd, cold... lethal-sounding... growl.

                         MACE
          Look.  That tape is a lightning bolt
          from God.  It's worth more than you,
          more than me, more than Faith.  You
          understand?  It can change things.
          Things that need changing before we
          all go off the end of the road.  And
          you do not have the right to use it
          for currency.
                  (Lenny's eyes are
                   wide)
          You go... you go alone.  This is
          where I draw the line.  I care about
          you Lenny... a lot more than you
          know... which makes us both pretty
          stupid.  But you pawn that tape, you
          mean nothing to me.

Lenny doesn't know what to say.  Tough choice.  He
clenches his jaw...

He's essentially being forced to choose between the past, represented by Faith, and the future, represented by Mace. And after a moment of doubt, he gives her the tape, instructing her to give it to Commissioner Strickland, which she does before vanishing outside into the crowd after a slight scuffle with Gant's cronies. She doesn't get too far before the two bad cops who started this whole mess, Spreg and Engelman, spot her and begin to chase her through the crowd.

In the meantime, Lenny is upstairs, trying to find Faith, instead finding nothing but a mess, and another Clip. As Lenny watches in horror, he sees Iris' killing replayed before his eyes, with Faith as the victim this time. The handcuffs, the blindfold, the double playback, the razor blade, the strangulation. Lenny knows what he's going to see next, and he can't bear to watch it. He tears off the unit and wanders dully into the bedroom, seeing a form slumped in the corner. Shaking, he reaches down and pulls the sheet off of the form of... Philo Gant.

Lenny is obviously confused, but at the same time things are beginning to click for him. All he needs to do to confirm his suspicions is to view the rest of the Clip. The killer wasn't Gant, it was Max. But Max didn't kill Faith. Faith lives, even declares her love for Max. Answers? This is only raising more questions. Suddenly, Gant enters the room, and Max flips out, throws Gant on the floor, and reveals that Gant hired him to kill Iris, and Faith. Max declares his own love for Iris, then proceeds to wipe Gant's mind clean by overloading him the same way he did Tick. And then the tape ends, and all the answers are laid out in a row.

Lenny takes off the trodes.  He is wrung out, drenched
with sweat.  We see that there is a figure standing in the
doorway behind him.  Lenny turns, not surprised to see Max
there with his .45 aimed at Lenny's chest.  Max's surgical
gloves look incongruous with his tux.

                         MAX
          Don't make any assumptions about our
          friendship, OK Lenny?

Max and Lenny both used to be cops, so they both know what's going to happen. Max is going to kill Gant, framing Lenny for the murder. And of course, since the murders of Tick and Iris involved the SQUID, Lenny will get blamed for those too. Not that Max plans to let Lenny live; a bullet in Lenny's head, in the middle of a "struggle," and he gets to be the big hero. No, the only ones who get to live are Max and Faith; Max had, indeed, been hired to kill her, but as it turns out, they fell in love, and he couldn't bring himself to do it. Half the murders were out of fear, the other half out of love, albeit some bizarre, misguided form of it. And all of this big mess, as Max explains, was nothing but random chance.

                         LENNY
          Just those two loose-cannon cops
          running around covering their butts.

                         MAX
          Yeah.  Pretty zany, huh?  All this
          shit caused by a random traffic
          stop.  Hey... nothing means nothing.
          You know that.  Look around... the
          whole planet's in total chaos.  You
          gotta take what you can, while you
          can.  Cause some shitbird can come
          up and put a fuckin' .22 in the back
          a your head any second.

Max's plan goes awry when Faith re-enters the room, however, and it becomes clear that she's not interested in Max any more than she was ever interested in anyone else. But she still cares enough about Lenny to try and save his life, so she grabs for Max's gun and gives Lenny enough time to enter into a scuffle with his would-be assassin. It's a brutal battle, involving guns, broken glass and a knife in the back, ending only when Lenny, slowly strangling as Max clutches his ugly tie from the edge of the balcony, reaches back, pulls the knife from his own shoulderblade, and cuts his tie off, sending Max to his death below. And finally, it's over.

Lenny stands there panting, bleeding down the back of his
jacket.  Faith runs to the railing and looks down.  All
the strength goes out of her legs.  She sags to the floor.
Fireworks continue to boom across the sky.

Lenny looks down at her, gazing at the object of his
quest.  She looks up at him, her wet eyes seemingly at the
bottom of a deep well from which he cannot save her.

He turns and walks away.  It's hard.  But he keeps
walking.

Well, not quite over. Mace is still being pursued by the two rogue cops, who eventually pin her down in the middle of the crowd. But in the middle of a moshe pit, Mace is the one in charge, and she quickly subdues them both using their own weapons against them, handcuffing them together to a parade float and waiting for the police to come. Of course, when the police DO arrive, to see a black woman assaulting two white police officers, they make an incorrect assumption and order her to the ground.

The nearest shoots her with a tazer.  She spasms and goes
to her hands and knees.  One of the cops kicks her down.
She cries out, trying to explain, but she can't get the
breath as the batons start to fall.  The crowd around them
watches fascinated, gasping.

Mace sees another cop arrive and start to uncuff Spreg.

                         MACE
          NO!!  NO!!!

They crack her with their batons, telling her to stay
down.  Another one kicks her in the stomach.

A BLACK KID in the crowd leaps onto one of the kicking
cops.

                        BLACK KID
            Leave her alone!

And then they come out of the crowd... one, then three,
then half a dozen.  Just normal people... black, white,
Latino people... that can't watch this happen any more.
They jump the cops, swarming them, wrestling them down.
It becomes a brawl.

Finally, just as the chaos seems to be on the verge of spilling over into a black abyss from which it will not recover, Palmer Strickland walks into the fray. He's seen the tape. He knows the truth. And he orders Mace released and Spreg and Engelman arrested. Of course, the two bad cops are desperate now. They have nothing to lose. Engelman goes one way off the deep end and shoots himself in the head. Spreg goes the other way, grabbing a weapon and lurching towards Mace and Lenny. The police surround him, shout at him to drop his weapon, but he refuses, keeps advancing, raises the weapon, aims, and...

Come on, they're the good guys. They can't die. The LAPD officers come to their senses and open fire on Spreg, taking him down for the count. And then it's all over but for the kissing part as midnight arrives, confetti falls, and the new millennium begins.

12:01 AM JAN 1, 2000

On the surface, Strange Days is just another action movie, but in the hands of someone who knows the Cyberpunk genre as well as James Cameron, it becomes something much more. The references to Gibson are there. The subtle technology amidst a sea of humanity is there. And above all else, the tangled plot woven amidst familiar surroundings is there.

Strange Days plays out just like a Cyberpunk run. A small team of Solos, Fixers and Techies bounces around between three or four familiar hangouts, collecting clues, gathering equipment, and dodging bullets. The Cops get involved, the Media gets involved... heck, there's even a Rockergirl here to put Johnny Silverhand to shame. Friendships are tested and shattered, allegiances change, secrets are revealed, and through it all we realize that in a world like this, the only person you can truly count on is yourself.

Strange Days works well because it, like much early Cyberpunk, deals with the very near future. When it was released in 1995, the year 2000 still seemed so far away, and yet now, looking back over the past 18 months, it's pretty easy to see Lenny's world as our own (save, perhaps, for the SQUID technology). This is much the same world as that seen in other 1995 Cyberpunk films, such as The Net, Hackers, and Johnny Mnemonic, all of which portrayed protagonists in seldom-seen parts of the world we currently live in. In some cases, there's some minor technology involved as a plot point, but even if you remove the tech you're still left with a solid story, and that, in the end, is all that really matters.

By far, Strange Days garnered the most votes last time, with most people pointing out that it, along with Ghost in the Shell, was the most traditionally and recognizably Cyberpunk. But as I've attempted to do throughout this series, I'd like to attempt to broaden the definition of Cyberpunk a bit with the next episode, taking a look at the film that got the least votes. As I think you'll see, Cyberpunk isn't always about near-future, familiar settings with recognizable heroes. Sometimes it's about pushing the envelope, and looking at things a bit differently. And that's why the next episode will cover 1995's brilliant City of Lost Children. Why must I consistently try to shake things up? I guess because... this is what I do.