Sep 23, 2015 Film & TV
TV gets serious about disgust and fury.
Mr Robot is revolutionary. Not because of its cinematography or sound design or woozy, abstruse narrative, although all those elements are inspired. It’s the anger that’s genuinely new, the revulsion with mindless consumerism that runs through this new computer-hacker drama like a virus.
The so-called Golden Age of Television has explored nearly every aspect of the human condition from failure to guilt to crazed megalomania. But disgust? Burn-it-all-down fury? That has always belonged to cinema, not TV.
Of course, shows as diverse as Mad Men and The Simpsons have tackled the alienating effects of contemporary capitalism, but they tended to do so with one eyebrow raised. Mr Robot is deadly serious.
“The world itself is just one big hoax,” says tortured, socially withdrawn Elliot (Rami Malek), in one of his many voiceover monologues. “Spamming each other with our burning commentary bullshit masquerading as insight, our social media faking us into intimacy. We all know why we do this… because we want to be sedated. Because it’s painful not to pretend, because we’re cowards. Fuck society.”
Your engagement with Mr Robot will depend largely on how interesting you find this kind of end-of-times world view, and how much you enjoy having your mind messed with. The show has an overwhelmingly hallucinatory quality that has you questioning everything you see, including major characters who may or may not be figments of Elliot’s deeply troubled imagination.
It’s not hard to see why the sort of people (let’s face it, mostly dudes) who can quote Tyler Durden in Fight Club or Patrick Bateman in American Psycho or Rust Cohle in True Detective have fallen equally hard for Mr Robot.
I’m not one of those people, and I’m not as helplessly in love with Mr Robot as most critics. Its pontificating gets old fast, the dialogue is often more silly than profound, and the hacker plotline isn’t as gripping as it needs to be.
Best of all is Malek’s performance as a damaged genius
But, despite its flaws, Mr Robot has much that is stunning. Cinematographer Tod Campbell composes his shots with rigorous beauty, conveying Elliot’s isolation and paranoia with expanses of negative space washed in limpid blues and greys, pushing Malek’s body to one side like an afterthought. His other favourite shot is a close-up on Malek’s wonderfully expressive face — a boon to the scores of Tumblrs that have sprung up in celebration of the newly minted heart-throb.
The Trent Reznor-ish musical score and the sound design that pushes Elliot’s rambling inner monologue to the fore are both superb. Best of all is Malek’s twitchy, intensely sympathetic performance as a damaged genius trying and failing to connect. Mr Robot isn’t perfect, but boy is it ambitious.