There is something disconcerting to have a life summed up in the number of hours lived, or to have scenes from that life played out with subtitle indicating the persons name and age, age in years, months and hours. It those moments that provide the grist for THE FINAL CUTs mill, a film that takes us once again into that endlessly fertile debate about what exactly makes us what we are. Is it our past or is it our memory of that past? And where does all this fall in the scheme of things when it is, ultimately, the people who survive our passing that have the final say? Make that the eponymous final cut. If only this moody film were as good as its premise.
Robin Williams stars as Alan Hakman, a name that is a tidy swipe at his job description. Hes a cutter, the best in the business at editing the recorded sight and sound of the recently deceased on a machine called a guillotine, an oddly antique-looking thing, all polished hardwood and brass fittings. The recordings are courtesy of the Zoe chip, implanted shortly before birth and continuously archiving everything the host sees. He’s got a particular knack for getting the essence of someone’s life, summing it up with key moments that reduce a lifetime to an hour or so of run time, with all the ugly things deleted with the touch of a button. That latter is part of the cutter code, which also includes absolute discretion, not having a Zoe chip of ones own, and never, ever cutting another life into the one he’s working on.
His latest assignment, referred to him by a colleague who prefers handling only the pretty lives, is of an industrialist, the one, in point of fact, who developed the technology used in the Zoe chip. When scanning the archive, automatically and conveniently organized by the chip into files such as eating, personal hygiene, and religion, he comes across something criminal. There is no question of telling anyone, the perpetrator is dead, and if it bothers Alan any more than any of the other things he’s seen, he doesn’t let on, even while interviewing the family to find out which memories they’d like to have included in the “re-memory”, as it’s called.
Williams here continues his welcome foreswearing of those warm and fuzzy roles that became so irksome towards the end. There is a sweetness to his Alan that doesn’t try too hard, which works well with another in a series of troubled ineffectual characters with a calm exterior masking storms of anguish underneath. In this case a rankling memory of his own that may or may not the reason for his obsession with his work that leaves him no time for a life of his own. At least that’s the complaint from sometime girlfriend Delila (Mira Sorvino), a knockout who is endlessly patient with Alan’s quirks, though one can’t help but wonder why.
Writer/director Omar Naim was on the right track with his measured considerations of privacy rights, the mutability of memory, and a stab at group-think with a plethora of anti-chip groups following a variety of political and religious convictions. There also that nice touch of giving religious overtones to Alan’s job, as well, making him in effect the final confessor, granting the absolution of a sanitized summation of a lifes tally sheet.
It’s what makes THE FINAL CUT such a frustrating experience. Naim has created world clothed in shadows as a fitting evocation of the deepest corners of the human mind, and one rife with the scintillating possibilities inherent in the exploration of that terrain. Yet the plot creaks with wild coincidences, spotty writing, and twists that fail to thrill so much as make the audience groan in the face yet another cliché instead of pondering one of lifes most tantalizing mysteries.