Thursday, June 11, 2015


[Note:  “Otnemem” is Western Bulgarian dialect for “Who am I?”]

[Meta-note:  That's a joke.  If you came here to read about the fine film "Memento",
here is where you want to be:  ]

This morning, under circumstances exactly the same as for “Die Vermessung der Welt”, I saw what turned out to be a quite good and little-known movie, this time not about math, but about … Hackers (German for ‘hackers’, and pronounced  “Häckers”).   To add spice to it all, the movie was both (mostly) set, and seen, in a “skiff”.

The title of the movie is “Who Am I – Kein System ist sicher” (…. ‘no system is safe’).  Now, that’s the German title.   As an English movie-title, “Who Am I” would mean something quite different, and uninteresting.   But:  German.   What to conclude?

In German, the title is clever.   At the simplest level, it has its English meaning:  for the hackers are all, like Anonymous, anonymous, daring you to divine their identity.   But additionally:  in German and any other language, computer commands for sophisticated programming languages written in English, retain their shape in other languages;  so, the Unix command   whoami, which gives back your username, is the same in German (and not “Wer bin ich”, unless you go to the trouble of writing a whole extra interface).   -- For a really good movie-title, the producers would simply have left it at that;  but for practical reasons, for a German audience, they felt they needed to show that it was indeed a German-language movie.

"Wer bist du?"   "Wer bist *du*?"

The film turns out to be much more trickily plotted, and carefully interwoven, than one expects.   After having gradually grown disgusted by the red-herring plotlets that lead nowhere, in “24” and others, I really appreciated this. 
Example:  The protagonist, a sort of Peter Parker character (and later seemingly not one, and later maybe sort of after all), is first seen in the company of a lone IC interrogator.   He has confessions to make (he says), but first he wants to do a David Copperfield, and tell us all about his tragic life.  (That ploy strikes one as either merely human, or -- taking matters one step meta -- a scheme to curry sympathy from his captors;  but actually, it turns out to be much more meta than that.  And I can tell you this much, without it being a spoiler, because you’ll never guess.  Though at the end, it all does make sense.)  He trots out a forgettable little metaphor about hacking/online-masquerading being like magic-tricks;  and performs a humble one, involving four cubes of sugar that become one cube, and then four again.   And that easily-dismissible interlude turns out to be a schema for the plot-surprise of the whole movie.  (Again, no spoiler:  I dare you to guess.)

His interrogator, and the audience’s principal representative of the IC,  is a woman (no longer quite young, though celibate and, in this case,  barren), like Carrie in “Homeland”, or the heroine of “Zero Dark Thirty” (and the threatened senior in the upcoming Bauerless “24”), along with many a more forgettable recent offering.   Now, I’m no particular fan of affirmativeAction-Movies, especially when they go so far as to distort old classics (recasting Dr Watson as a woman, or Sherlock as gay);  but in this case, not only is she entirely plausible in the role, but her gender ultimately plays a (quite unexpected) role  (and no, it isn’t some tired trumped-up love-interest)  in the tricky ending to the plot.


This just in!

Reaktionen nach Cyberangriff auf Bundestag, IT-Experten kritisieren mangelnden Schutz vor Hacker-Angriffen, NSA-Untersuchungsausschuss vernimmt Kanzleramt-Mitarbeiter, Juristen kritisieren Vorratsdatenspeicherung

The movie could not be more timely.


Before even delving into the structure and execution of the film, certain basic ‘vital statistics’  tell in its favor.

* I’ve often knocked the prevalence of the “serial killer” as a central figure in movies.  Serial killers -- apart from being vanishingly rare in the actual landscape of crime, let alone of history and society as a whole -- are inherently uninteresting, since, being psychopaths, they fall outside the Christian calculation of morality:  a serial killer is not so much a real villain like Donald Trump or Richard the Third, as a mere Godzilla.
By contrast, hackers are increasingly prevalent, almost ubiquitous -- in post-industrial societies, almost everyone’s life has been effected, directly or indirectly, in multiple ways.  (My own, for example, by Chinese hackers, in the headlines just this morning.)   Most of them are reasonably complex people, with a sense of right and wrong -- though the sinful Superbia that can easily infect them as they exult in their expertise, can pervert them ever further from their initial path.  This movie follows a group of hackers  from the inside, neither romanticizing nor demonizing.

*  Unlike “24”, which grossly abused the trope, season after season, “Who Am I” features no moles, no Mr Big (the once character who seems as though he might fit that latter bill, is poignantly, almost comically deflated at the end).   People’s motivations for their sketchy actions are quite comprehensible, a mere tweak to the everyday;  no unmotivated treacheries serving as a diabolus ex machina to keep a wheezing plot going.

* While definitely a thriller, the movie does not rely on violence to supply the thrills.   The closest we get is a brief glimpse of three still images that show only edge of what seems a murder scene (but which turns out to be something else).   It would not need a rating more restrictive than PG-13 -- and indeed, in Germany, it was explicitly recommended for schoolchildren. (“Der Film wurde über die SchulKinoWochen für die Unterrichtsfächer Deutsch, Politik, Sozialkunde, Ethik, Informatik, Philosophie, und Psychologie ab der 8. Schulklasse als Unterricht im Kino vorgeschlagen.” -- Wikipedia.)


As in “War Games”, the jeune premier and his love interest Meet Cute;  a nerd, he tries to woo her with what mite he has to offer, hacking her school’s computer to improve her grade.   Later, another motif from that movie is borrowed -- using Visitor’s Pass status to penetrate a highly sensitive secure (not) facility.
The nod to the “Spiderman” movies is even more explicit:  the marginalized young man dreams of being a Superhero.   The actor actually looks like Peter Parker, and plays the part throughout -- never turning (implausibly) into someone like Spiderman;  which is why this movie, though fiction, is woven strictly from patches of reality, whereas “Spiderman” is mere fantasy, barely above the level of onanism.

[Fortzusetzen …]

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