Design Fiction Chronicles: Brainstorm

Opening credits, which encompasses also the early moments of the first scene of Brainstorm

Well, this is one popped into my head the other day, but not for the reasons I’ll mention in this post — I’ll save the initial motivation for a post in the near future. In the meantime, while I was watching this again I found deep enjoyment in the first few minutes of the film when the viewer basically has to learn what the heck the is the technoscience of the fiction proper so they can knit it into their interpretation of the story. Sometimes the technoscience is pure MacGuffin — nothing specific, but *the device or what-have-you. Other times, it’s speculative but connected in a legible way to existing ideas, conversations or prototypical exemplars of what one sees as science/technology fiction in a film. That is, the film plays with current technology *memes, extracting, manipulating and cleverly employing them to service the story and general entertainment.

The question here is a fascinating one — how do you transport the audience into this world? How do you let them know what the technoscience that undergirds the fiction is? This sort of introductory moment is necessary of course, to make the good gooey technoscience into something legible — otherwise it’s all *bubbe meyses rather than good, extrapolated ideas brought to life and inserted into some corner of life’s drama.

We’ve seen some good instances of this transportation — there has to be a word for it — in Jurassic Park where we see the sort of high school science film explaining how dinosaurs were brought into the present; in the film of Minority Report where we see the pre-crime bureau and pre-cogs who can anticipate murder through a quick and dirty, open and shut case at the beginning of the film ((we also see the gesture interface that Chief Anderton will use — one of our canonical, exemplary examples that describe *design fiction)).

What we have here in this Brainstorm (1983, Douglas Trumball, director, with Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood..which is weird) clip is precisely this function of quickly introducing the audience to the technoscience of the film without belaboring it too much. It’s actually quite simple as a concept, especially in the era of quantified selves, brain neurscience, brain wave game controllers and all this sort of stuff. Basically the technoscience fiction in Brainstorm is a R/W drive for the brain. Brain *waves can be read and recorded and equally-well, written to. This is it. This is what is shown in the first three minutes of the film. Done quite curiously, starting with the opening credit roll — a bit of extra-diegetic visual fun, where no time is wasted in getting to the story: what we might naturally think is a visual screen-saver-like backdrop to the credits is actually a test display on the device Christopher Walken’s character is seeing as they are testing their prototype. Dialogue also begins to creep in at this moment as well, gradually bringing the audience into the story itself. A few more moments of dialogue, a pratfall and prop-clues lead us to a reasonable conclusion that the *device is one that can read and write brain activity and actually allow one to jack signals into another persons brain giving them a full sensory experience of whatever was/is being recorded remotely. ((Sort of the *augmented/virtual reality enthusiasts’ wet dream. I’m much more interested in the production details of introducing the speculative technoscience. I find this technique here worth noting.