Brainstorm

October 3, 2010

BrainstormWikipedia | Brainstorm is a 1983 science fiction film directed by Douglas Trumbull and starring Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood (in her last film appearance).

A team of scientists invents “The Hat”, a helmet that allows sensations to be read from a person’s brain and written to tape so that others can experience them. The team includes estranged husband-and-wife, Michael and Karen Brace (Walken and Wood), and Michael’s colleague Lillian Reynolds (Fletcher).

The team demonstrates the device and gains financing for more development. One of the team members creates a “sex tape,” which he shares with other colleagues. This results in one of them being forced to retire after an intense session that almost kills him from sensory overload. Tensions increase as the possibilities for abuse become clear. Reynolds is pressured by backers to admit a former colleague to the team whom she sees as a hack and part of the military industrial complex. She refuses to have the invention taken over for military use and an argument ensues. This stress, coupled with the cumulative effects of her lifestyle, causes Reynolds to suffer a heart attack while working alone. As she dies she records her experience.

Michael attempts to experience this recording, but nearly dies when he experiences the sensations of a heart attack. He modifies his playback console to prevent it from manifesting the lethal physical effects and tries again.

A group of scientists with military ties are monitoring the equipment, and discover Michael’s attempt to replay Reynolds’ death tape. Senior members of the team want to discover the machine’s capabilities and a junior member experiences the playback at the same time as Michael. As the recording is viewed without the safeguards Michael has, the person dies from the experience, and the central playback facility is shut down.

Michael’s experience is cut short, but his near death experience makes him curious to know more. The recording is locked away and Michael is told he will never be allowed to view it. Michael protests, but he and Karen are removed from the team.

Michael makes several attempts to hack into the lab’s computers. He discovers “Project Brainstorm”, which has developed applications of the device for torture and brainwashing. Michael’s son is inadvertently exposed to one of these “toxic” tapes, and suffers mental trauma. Michael vows to destroy the Brainstorm project and enlists the help of Karen and a friend who were part of the original team. Karen agrees to help on the condition that he will never leave her.

Michael and Karen are monitored by the military, who suspect Michael will attempt to access the tape. He outwits them by staging a fight with Karen, causing her to leave for her parents’ house. As the military eavesdrops, Michael and Karen feign a conversation over the phone. Using this as a distraction, Michael accesses the Brainstorm computer via another telephone line, while Karen hacks into the system and reprograms robots in the factory that manufactures The Hat. The machines go berserk, creating havoc. Michael shuts down the security system, trapping the staff inside, allowing him to remotely load the death tape and experience it without interruption. The Brainstorm leaders realize Michael is responsible and order his arrest. Michael senses something is wrong and flees his home, heading for a telephone booth at the Wright Brothers National Memorial, located in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. He hacks into the computers again and accesses the final part of the death tape.

When Michael views Dr. Reynolds’ death experience, he sees “memory bubbles”. Reynolds recalls a hilarious meeting with Michael and an early robot; she remembers a suitor at her lab attempting to woo her; she also remembers being devastated when her boss tells her that her private funding has been lost, and the Pentagon will take over.

Reynolds experiences a brief vision of Hell, then travels away from Earth and through the universe, even after the tape ends, ultimately witnessing innumerable angels flying into a great cosmic light. Michael has gone so far into the recording that he cannot return, and appears dead. Karen arrives just in time to pull him back. Awakening from the experience, he weeps with joy, knowing Reynolds has gone to Heaven.

Link: Brainstorm on IMDB