Robin Williams’ performance in The Final Cut movie is among the best of his career.
Every film geek/armchair critic/self-confessed movie addict has a certain list of films they think everyone should see. Or, at least, everyone who’s anyone. You know the list I’m talking about. On that list are all of your favorite flicks that are also (at least in your opinion) supremely underrated. It’s the same list you refer to when trying to gauge your potential level of cinematic compatibility with a new romantic interest, or when reminding that friend of yours in film school that your totally lame degree in business communications doesn’t infringe on your ability to appreciate good movies.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s call it The List. Chances are, you’ve got at least a couple titles for every film genre on The List. But, just as likely, there’s probably one movie in every genre that stands out. I’d love to name every movie on my version of The List for you right now, but that’s not what you’re here for – you’re here for sci-fi. If movies comprise a body of film, sci-fi flicks have to be the heart. And while blockbusters like The Matrix and Terminator are the ventricles, pumping life-liquid into the rest of the body, lesser-known sci-fi movies like Primer and The Ghost in the Machine are just as important to the genre.
The Final Cut Movie, Overshadowed
Leaving behind the heart analogy and going back to The List, I’m sure you have a favorite low-budget, under-the-radar, or just generally under-appreciated sci-fi film. For me, that film is The Final Cut, a 2004 movie by Omar Naim which, while not completely unknown, was overshadowed in a big way by other sci-fi movies that came out the same year (think Spiderman 2, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Hellboy, I Robot, AVP, and the list goes on).
In The Final Cut, Robin Williams is hauntingly fascinating in his role as Alan Hakman, a lonely and socially awkward man whose ability to find real joy in life was seemingly destroyed when a childhood mishap left him deeply traumatized. As an adult, Hakman’s chosen line of work simultaneously reflects and amplifies his disconnect with what it means to be happy. Hakman works as a “cutter,” the equivalent of a digital mortician in a [not-so distant] future where a device called a Zoe Implant can be inserted into the brain at birth and used to record everything its owner hears and sees.
A cutter’s job is to create “Rememories,” or digital collages from the first person point-of-view, to be shown at the memorial service of deceased wearers of the Zoe Implant. Hakman isn’t just any cutter, though – he’s a distinguished one. Distinguished, that is, through his reputation of being willing to turn a blind eye to the horrible injustices committed at the hands of those whose Rememories he creates. In other words, if you were a despicable villain your whole life, but your children wanted you to be remembered as a wonderful person, Hakman would be the cutter for the job. This aspect of Hakman’s work speaks volumes about his own self-loathing and insecurity, which Williams brings to life exceptionally well in one of his best-ever performances (in my humble opinion).
But there’s much more to The Final Cut than just great acting. The premise alone (one imitated to perfection in an episode of the sci-fi gold that is the BBC’s Black Mirror) is enough to warrant watching the movie more than once. After all, the Zoe Implant is hardly a piece of technology that could be considered unrealistic, or even far off in the distant future. In fact, there’s a good chance that people who are alive now will have the opportunity to experience something very similar in their lifetimes.
The Questions of The Final Cut
But technology itself isn’t what draws us into sci-fi movies; it’s the possibilities. It’s the questions that arise out of those possibilities, and the way that they make us feel. One big question is how can we reap the benefits of technology without letting it destroy us – physically, psychologically, or otherwise? Another is what can the possibilities of the future say about humanity’s present? Any way you word them, these types of questions are at the core of why we watch sci-fi.
Just like with great movies of all genres, great sci-fi flicks don’t necessarily have us consciously asking these questions during the movie. The questioning tends to be more of the subconscious variety, and what we get is 90 minutes worth of feelings. We feel what it might be like to live in a world where a Zoe Implant is the height of consumer technology, and the weight of the resulting implications. In The Final Cut, we’re not only led to feel just how awful things could be in such a world, we’re also led to the complete other side of the spectrum, where we experience just how liberating it could be.
Other Notable Elements of The Final Cut
So, I’ve talked about acting, premise, and thematic elements – but there’s got to be more in order for this movie to make it onto The List, right? There is. For one, it’s beautifully shot (by Tak Fujimoto – Silence of the Lambs, The Sixth Sense, Signs). For two, it’s excellently layered; the elements of romance, suspense, and social criticism are present and compelling, but they never accidentally overshadow the character-driven story that this really is. Third, it’s a great look at what can be accomplished by a first-time writer/director.
More than with any other aspect, though, this film draws me in with its cautionary look at a character who is living almost completely vicariously (Hakman experiences more emotion when looking through the eyes of those he memorializes than in his own personal life). The movie is set in the future, but thanks to our collective obsession with digital and social media, the risk of missing out on our own lives in a similar way is very much a present-day danger.
Trailer for The Final Cut Movie
At any rate, film is art, and art is subjective. That’s why Shyamalan and Spielberg can both be great, and why my version of The List probably looks a whole lot different than your version. Still, I would say, if you haven’t had a chance to see The Final Cut in the 12 years since it came out, better late than never.
Featured Image: Lionsgate