Review: 3%

Note: this is a spoiler-free review of the show.

3

In the future, year 104, the world is divided into to two classes: the poor in the slums, and the rich who live in the Offshore. Every year, all 20-year-old citizens from the slums compete to live in the Offshore. “In The Offshore, all are given equal opportunity to advance.” Proclaims the charismatic leader, Ezequiel. Only 3% of the contestants, candidates, will get to live in Utopia. However, The System is threatened by The Cause. Maybe there was something lost in translation (show is shot in Brazilian Portuguese), but those are the most unoriginal names. Anyway, 3% follows five candidates (Michele, Fernando, Joana, Marco, Rafael) in their quest to become the lucky 3%, and Ezequiel (João Miguel). He’s the almighty Supervisor, who might be working with The Cause.

As an ensemble show, 3% follows a Lost format. Each episode focuses on one character of the ensemble, with flashbacks, and their journey through The Process. Michele (Bianca Comparato), is the secret resistance fighter. Marco (Rafael Lozano) is the vain and relatively well-off candidate. He considers it his birthright to make it to The Offshore, the rest of his family has. Rafael (Rodolfo Valente) is the trickster-type. Fernando (Michel Gomes) is the sweet, paraplegic, who befriends Michele. Joana (Vaneza Oliveira) is the lone wolf.

You also see elements of the Hunger Games, Elysium, Survivor. Candidates must outwit, outlast, and outplay each other to prove themselves worthy to the Administrators. They are given “tests”, like assembling blocks quickly to show high IQ; and successfully making across a tunnel while being dosed with hallucinogens, to prove perseverance, maybe?

From the beginning, the show presents The Process as an invasive and dehumanizing ordeal that only proves the candidates’ willingness to submit to the system. In the pilot, they are put through a questionnaire that is invasive and harsh. It is like a job interview, psychological evaluation, and lie-detector test. They ask a black woman how often she washes her hair. Fernando’s disability is mocked. Michele is hit on by the interviewer and mocked for her attachment to a sentimental object. “Are you worth being saved?” They ask. They are really asking what are the candidates willing to give up. The ones who pass the first stage, must disavow all ties to their former lives.

Despite rigged nature of The Process, some characters are willing to defend this system, like Fernando, the paraplegic who has near-religious faith in the system. The most optimistic character of the show. He firmly believes in the system, and believes in its mission for good, even when confronted of the reality of its unfairness. He believes in self-reliance, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. It is admirable, but also frustrating to Michele, who tries to get him to see the injustice. The candidates know they are being watched, yet this doesn’t prevent anyone, Rafael mostly, from cheating. No one is eliminated for cheating. They are eliminated for giving the wrong answers or not completing the test on time.

This is not light escapism. In fact, you may be wishing for escapism from this show. Given the current political climate, this is a show that plays to the worst fears of a totalitarian government, built on ideals of equality and self-reliance. This show might be better if watched once a day, like a miniseries event. One problem is that the 3% is depressing. The demoralizing tests are, well, demoralizing after a while. The subplot of Ezequiel being watched by his superiors is the least interesting part of the show. The Cause is barely mentioned after the pilot. Michele is pushed to the back burner soon. It’s not that all shows have to be upbeat and positive. But for a show that presents a resistance and a revenge story within the pilot, it doesn’t show much interest in either of those.  All of 3% eight episodes are streaming on Netflix.

Movie Review: Predestination

Predestination (2014)

photo: imdb.com

photo: imdb.com

dir. The Spierig Brothers

starring: Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, and Noah Taylor

Poignant and intelligent science fiction drama.  Despite its trite premise, Predestination is a treat that places the focus on strong characters.

Predestination begins with a man in a trenchcoat racing against the clock to diffuse a bomb.  The diffusion is successful, but the man’s face is burned beyond recognition.  Cut to the hospital, where that man wakes up and is revealed as Ethan Hawke.  In Predestination, Ethan Hawke plays a time travel agent hunting down the man responsible for massive bombing in New York, 1975.  He poses as a bartender in 1970’s New York, presumably to find the killer.  Then, a man walks into the bar, and then the real story begins.

The bartender, Ethan Hawke, places a bet: a good story for a bottle of scotch.  The man tells the bartender that he was born a girl, Jane.  Jane (Sarah Snook) was an orphan who was always out of place.  She got pregnant and, during the delivery, the doctors discovered she had two sets of reproductive organs, male and female.  The doctors removed her female organs, and Jane was forced to become John.  Soon after that discovery, her baby was kidnapped from the hospital.  Sarah Snook has the meatier role, and tougher job as the emotional anchor.  This could have easily been given the Lifetime movie treatment or been hastily shoe-horned into the bomb plot.  Thankfully, the filmmakers place the emphasis on character development, so we identify with Jane/John.  After hearing his story, Ethan Hawke gives John another proposal: go back in time and kill the man who ruined him.

Predestination is based on the short story “All You Zombies” by sci-fi author Robert A. Heinlein.  After reading a synopsis of the story, it’s surprising that the piece the filmmakers added was the terrorist bomb plot, which is the weakest piece of the film.  Predestination is a paradox wrapped in an enigma inside of a puzzle.  The paradox, enigma, and puzzle add up to the belief that free-will is non-existent.  As the film becomes more deterministic, it also becomes more stifling.  The past determines the future which determines the past.  Ugh.  It’s hopeless.  Also, the weight of history gives the film a feeling of claustrophobia.  That doesn’t detract from the experience of watching the film.  That frustration prompts repeat viewings and discussions.

On a side note: for those that found the film silly, imagine the movie being remade as the Mirrors: the Kanye West Story.

Recommend: Yes.  Although the plot isn’t the most surprising, Predestination’s emphasis on character gives the plot twists a greater emotional impact.

Availability: DVD and Blu-ray, Redbox, Amazon Instant Video