Cate Blanchett & Rooney Mara in Carol of Todd Haynes
Yesterday, Mr Robot created by Sam Esmail won a Golden Globe of the Best Television Serie Drama in front of Narcos or Games of Thrones. Exploring the dark side of today’s world, T.V. series Mr. Robot tells the story of a computer geek who sets himself up as a virtual vigilante, hacking into the lives of all sorts of shady characters to dispense his version of justice. But, in this paranoid thriller, things are not quite as they at first seem, lurching between the real and the delirious as we follow the main character’s bouts of insanity.
When Sam Esmail, the 38-year-old writer and producer of Mr. Robot, is asked about all the different references in his series, he reels off a varied and impressive list of masterpieces without fearing any of the derision that often greets the presumptuous. A touch of Stanley Kubrick never having hurt anyone, he even pays homage to A Clockwork Orange each time the series’ title appears, particularly in his use of classical music. The voiceover of his hero, a young hacker who rarely smiles, recalls both that in Taxi Driver and the ambience of Fight Club, while the ghost of John Carpenter’s classic They Live is never far away. Where series are concerned, Mr. Robot recalls, especially in the first episodes, the nail-biting Profit, a mid-90s flash-in-the-pan that featured a big-business executive determined to do evil around him in pursuit of filthy lucre.
But Mr. Robot is firmly set in the here and now − in our world of constant financial crises, Edward Snowden, the erosion of the private sphere through the internet, and real and virtual political battles − and is realized with surgical precision in high thriller style. Elliot Anderson, the main character, who is constantly enveloped in a black hoody, incarnates the confusions of our times. Employed by a firm specializing in online security – two words he finds it hard not to associate without irony − Elliot spends his nights in front of his computer screen, hacking into the lives of a whole gallery of shady sorts. His goal? Playing the virtual vigilante, unmasking liars and criminals. Quickly, though, he extends his range and, instead of just saving the suicidal widow and the vulnerable orphan, takes on a mission to save the entire planet − our do-gooder geek gets involved with an activist who wants to bring down the whole capitalist system by wiping out all debt through a giant series of hacking strikes. The first enemy on the list of companies that they target is called, in all simplicity, “Evil Corp.” Revolution is here!
As it follows the potent character of Elliot, one of the most original we’ve seen in recent years on both the small and the big screen, Mr. Robot constantly walks the line between the real and the virtual, but also between truth and lies. For young Elliot isn’t just an angry introvert, he also suffers from personality disorders, which were progressively revealed over the course of the first season’s ten episodes (the incredible sessions with his psychiatrist were just a sort of warmup). As a result, his is a strange, slippery, troubling and totally fascinating personality. With Elliot, Mr. Robot is part of a tradition − that includes Homeland and its bipolar heroine − where nothing that we see can be taken at face value. The viewer is constantly on the edge, as are the characters. What dream, what nightmare are we in? Is there someone − anyone − we can trust? The screen is filled with the damned and the deranged, hope is a far-off land, and the moments of peace are few and far between. Which isn’t to say that watching Mr. Robot has you constantly chewing your nails off: as with every strong or even extreme show, it has a highly cathartic effect. While sometimes not everything is perfect, and if certain episodes seem overly demonstrative – too much brio can kill the brio − Esmail manages to keep the thread taught throughout nonetheless. As for the actors, lead by sexy Rami Malek and comeback-kid Christian Slater, it is they who bring the human dimension to this astonishing story.