Thursday, 22 October 2009

Memory Run / aka Synapse (1996)

This is an interesting one. I had previously enjoyed this film just as a low-budget piece of science fiction/cyberpunk action, but upon researching it for this review, I discovered the whole story behind its plot, which makes it much more interesting, and has made me rethink it a bit.

The story behind this film was based on a 1968 novel, 'Season of the Witch', by a man called Hank Stein. Memory Run, or Synapse as it was otherwise known in some markets, is set in a dystopian future and tells the story of an arms dealer who is smuggling weapons to a resistance movement who are fighting against LifeCorp, who now rule all government. This dealer, Andre, is framed for the rape and murder of a wealthy woman and as punishment he is forced into being experimented upon.

His conciousness is taken out of his body and implanted into the body of the murder victim, Celeste. Upon waking up as a woman, Andre/Celeste escapes the facility and is marked for termination. She finds her way to the resistance fighters, The Union, and becomes an uneasy ally of theirs. Thus the chase is on for her to try and reclaim her body while helping The Union to topple the sinister regime.

While it does have some rather hackneyed sci-fi plot devices such as the Big Corporation and the Motley Band Of Resistance Fighters, the idea of a main character undergoing a gender change and having to come to terms with their new body is very interesting. It throws up all kinds of internal conflicts for that character, which are sadly not explored to their fullest extent in this film. Director Allan A. Goldstein got thee most of a limited budget, with sets and locations well filmed to give some added scale to proceedings.

There are some familiar faces in the movie, such as Karen Duffy (otherwise known as a writer and former MTV VJ), the ever marvellous Saul Rubinek, Matt McCoy and Chris Makepeace. Not familiar with these names? If you've watched TV or films for any length of time, you'll have seen them crop up in a few things. Karen Duffy carries off the dual role of Josette and Celeste very well, especially considering she is playing a man's mind in a woman's body for much of the flick. She does so with some style and aplomb, despite the limitations of the script.

So with a pretty decent cast for a low budget film and a plot based on Hank Stein's novel, the film is an entertaining enough bit of science fiction, but so much more could have been done with it, considering its origins. Hank Stein underwent a gender change some time after writing the book, and has since been known as Jean Marie Stein, and has written extensively on gender changes and helping those who are dealing with this issue.

This gives the film a little more poignance for me, although I would have liked to have seen the gender issues dealt with more onscreen. Certainly, they are talked about and there is a great deal of conflict in the Celeste character, but such a defining aspect of the character is rather glossed over in the movie, in favour of more explosions and gun fights. This is a shame, as it would have given the film more of a lift, and possibly more respect than it is given.

The film is well shot and looks good aside from the very cheap and very dated digital effects (along with some rather dated design aspects) but it does make you think, and that's kind of the point of science fiction in the first place, isn't it? Low budget and a bit silly the film may be, but to me this is a bit of a gem. It's sometimes rather impressive to see what the bargain bins can yield. I would recommend this film to anyone interested in the subject matter or indeed that has read Stein's novel. If you're looking for big budget SF stuffed with social commentary, you're looking in the wrong place, but this is a pretty bold stab at something different from an era of SF cinema that was pretty bleak.

Andre awakens in his new body as Celeste...

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