Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of the sensational science fiction book Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is in movie theaters and bringing joy to sci-fi fans everywhere. From a political perspective it is interesting to note that even though the movie is apolitical, recent developments in society has made it into an involuntary political commentary.
This analysis will not give away any spoilers, and if you have read the book you can easily enjoy the movie and vice versa because they are truly quite different.
For those who are not familiar with the story, Ready Player One is set a few decades into the future, after some great societal catastrophe that has left large swaths of society living in poverty. To escape their dreary real-world experiences, they enter into an online world called Oasis, invented by tech genius James Halliday.
Upon his death, Halliday releases an “Easter egg”, a competition which requires understanding Halliday’s life and values to solve the riddles. The winner becomes the heir of Oasis.
The book is packed full of cultural references from Halliday’s childhood in the 1980s, and it is certainly these references that have gained the book its major following. The movie has fewer of these references because they don’t translate as easily to the screen.
The Clear Connections
There are of course bad guys in the plot, and this is where things get interesting. There is a competitor to Oasis, a multinational corporation IOI lead by the soulless corporate crony Nolan Sorrento, who has hired armies of players to try to win the competition that hunt down and use dirty tactics against the users of Oasis.
On the surface, this sounds like just another Hollywood leftist plot portraying capitalists as evil, but this time there is a wonderful twist of fate. Conservatives who watch the movie cannot help themselves from immediately seeing Mark Zuckerberg in Sorrento. IOI is immediately recognizable as playing the role of Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Twitter who use totalitarian means and dirty tricks to stack the competition against conservative voices.
That was obviously not the intention – Cline started writing his book before Facebook and Google existed – but the parallels are striking.
Another underlying theme of the movie is social media addiction. People escape their own dreary lives to live in a synthetic world which they regard as a better alternative than reality. It captures the nihilistic spirit of our current culture perfectly.
The Moral Message
The movie inadvertently also makes a parallel between reality escapism and transgenderism. In the movie, one of the female characters in the story has a male avatar in Oasis. On the surface, this appears to be a token hat tip to get the appropriate Hollywood progressive stamp of approval. However, within the theme of escaping reality, it unintentionally implies that transgender people are often deeply unhappy with reality due to various circumstances in their lives and try to escape their problems in a fantasy world, by dressing up as an avatar. That’s explosive material.
Spielberg ends on a high note by making the moral point that in the end, nothing beats actual reality. As such, it is a call to action: don’t solve your problems by bogging yourself down in social media. Solve problems in the real world so you prefer your real life over a fake one.
It’s rare to find a Hollywood movie with such a positive cultural message these days, and since Spielberg is one of those producers who has largely avoided hateful identity politics, it might be well worth spending a few bucks seeing the movie – or reading the book. Or both.