“The Game” is David Fincher’s 1997 film. It stars Michael Douglas as Nicholas, Sean Penn as Conrad and Deborah Kara Unger as Christine.
The movie surrounds the arrogantly wealthy yet isolated Nicholas, who on his birthday receives a present from his brother Conrad. It is a card for a mysterious company called CRS (Consumer Recreation Services). Nicholas ignores his present until he looks around his lavish mansion and realizes how mundane his life has become. He discovers CRS in one of his work buildings and decides to take all the tests required of the company in order to participate. Soon, unwillingly, Nicholas is immersed in “the game” provided by CRS. However, things begin to spin out of control, and we as viewers become unsure of what’s reality and what is not.
POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD!
There are many ways to interpret this film, and thus the film contains several possible messages.
The game seemed “tailor-made” to go against Nicholas’ lavish lifestyle, to pronounce his shortcomings and to overcome his fears. It seemed to both teach, entertain, and scare him all at the same time. His falling off a building on his 48 th birthday like his father did is the perfect example. We see Nicholas is haunted by this memory throughout the film. However, if the goal was to teach him a lesson, CRS is put in a more sinister light, as several of these situations were life/death. It seemed that one of the lessons they were trying to teach him was that money can’t always insulate you from danger (although of course, they took most of his money away).
This goes to show the value of psychological profiling as CRS seemed to predict his every move. Of course, everyone’s game is different. From this angle, perhaps those at the ‘top,’ or the wealthy, will have to deal with the difficult tasks of the poor and paranoid, while the people at the ‘bottom,’ the poor/sick/outcast, will have to deal with tasks more on their level. Perhaps Conrad’s game helped get him off drugs. This also deals with concepts of karma. We see Nicholas ignore several people in the film in the beginning, whether it was a poor person asking for change or an acquaintance saying thank you. It seems the more he acknowledges the downtrodden, the better his luck gets, such as when he manages to find a ride back to California. Like the game, sometimes situations really are life/death, win/lose, but most of the time it is our reactions to situations which determines our fate.
After Conrad runs away from Nicholas, we hear their recorded conversation when Nicholas stops to use a payphone. One of the lines reverberated in his ear is, “Do I have a choice?” This makes both the viewer and Nicholas wonder, do we have a choice? Do we control our fate or do others? The logo for CRS is a triangle or pyramid. This is the symbol for the all-seeing eye on the American dollar bill. I couldn’t help but wonder whether the director/writers wanted us to question whether or not there’s a higher power out there screwing with us. Moreover, if life is a game, is it a game orchestrated by those in power or by us? Or is the logo simply trying to tell us that CRS is a pyramid scheme? Before the game, Nicholas was at the top of the pyramid compared to the majority of society, but while in the game, Nicholas began to slide towards the bottom, for the first time experiencing the bad luck that most people face in the course of the day. As mentioned previously, perhaps the goal of the game is to take you out of your comfort zone, and put you in situations the exact opposite of what you’re used to.
Whether it was a game or not, some questions arise for viewers. If it really was a game, would you forgive your friends and family for putting you through it? What if Nicholas really died when he fell, and the party was either a dream or his version of some sort of heaven? Could Nicholas have died in the taxi, or in Christine’s apartment? Many point out the wound on Conrad’s back showing that the bullet went through him, which either means that the party was indeed a dream and Conrad was shot, or that CRS really does take care of the minor details (even the carjacking seemed part of the plan, as I swore I saw the carjacker briefly at the party- not to mention how they knew Nicholas wouldn’t go to Conrad after he shot him, resulting in his jumping off the roof).
Many also question whether or not Nicholas would’ve still been traumatized after the party due to all he’d been through. Indeed, Nicholas might’ve felt relief that it was all a game after almost dying several times, but who’s to say Nicholas isn’t permanently damaged psychologically as a result of the game? Did the game brainwash him? Moreover, who’s to say Nicholas will even change his ways, if indeed he still has all his money? Or was Nicholas empowered by the whole experience? Also, we’re made to believe that Conrad was virtually broke due to his former drug habits, so how could he even pay for half of the CRS bill? And better yet, who recruited Conrad for his game? Is this only a game for those who’re wealthy? Was CRS just the name created by the owners of ‘the game’ to suit Nicholas, or is CRS the international name of the company?
This is the one film I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel to, except it would have to be an entirely different game an ending for the new character.