11:14 — IF on Film


11:13 pm: The dark highway rolls out before you. In a few hours you’ll be heading out of town with a sweet young thang. As you drive, all you can think about is — WHOMP-CRERR-FLONK — a body-shaped object smashes the windshield and when you look up the car is in a ditch. All you can think of as you stare at the open bottle of Jack is: “Tell me I didn’t just hit someone.”

>exit car

You must take your seatbelt off.

>take off seatbelt.

As you reach for your seatbelt, you realize you are sitting on your couch watching a dvd, the indie film 11:14 (Greg Marcks, 2003) to be exact.

The film, which never had a real theatrical release, has circulated well on VHS ($5,800,000 in rentals). (Reviews) As one of those genre-mixing movies, it presents a grimly humorous narrative told from multiple perspectives on the moments leading up to that fatal minute. Think of it as Memento meets Ground Hog Day with a hint of 5×2 and Run Lola Run. But even before other perspectives emerge, the first scene feels strangely familiar.

Perspective shots at some point even look left and right as if the viewer is in a Choose Your Own Adventure. The camera presents them with “down one way, you see a farm house, and down the other, a graveyard,” which do you choose. Here is:

a dark hillside
For a moment, it is quiet. One exit path to the east winds to a lit farmhouse. You hear the policeman charging up the hill to the south behind you. To the West, a graveyard.

(A few classic arcade games show up in the film, too.)

This movie opens with the disoriented protagonist that Jeremy describes as the fundamental starting point of much interactive fiction (IF). From the beginning, we are as disoriented as the driver, Jack, is. We have very little information, and even less time or means to gather more. Decision points come quickly, and the possibilities that won’t get us killed or arrested are extremely slim. For this first vignette, the story does not go inside Jack’s psyche, but rather takes him through a constrained map of seemingly impossible riddles. The best he can do is run from one riddle to the next. Problem: The body doesn’t fit into the car. Problem: a woman (Barbara Hershey) pulls up and asks if he needs help. Problem: she offers to call the police. As a free man with a car, Jack’s possibilities for actions at first seem unlimited, but quickly prove to be enormously constrained.

Perhaps we can use the film as an opportunity to ask:

  • What other films seem akin to IF?
  • Does IF show up in film anywhere?
  • How do IF initial conditions or other features lend themselves or draw upon cinematic conventions?

(This follows our previous conversations of chatbots in films)

Besides Groundhog Day and some of the other “game” movies, what movies seem to share IF sensibilities? Has IF had a direct impact on any films?

While discussing Tom Chick’s article in the escapist, Jeremy has pointed towards Taxi Driver as one example of a movie that could make a good IF. Of course, we’ve also spoken repeatedly spoken about the possibilities for Hamlet.

IF may not have been literally made into film, but some movies seach narratological affinities. What other movies might we include?

“Enlightening Interactive Fiction: Andrew Plotkin’s Shade.” Second Person: Authoring and Role-Playing in Games and Playable Media. Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Eds. MIT Press, 2006.

3 Responses to “11:14 -- IF on Film”

  1. 1 Chris

    The structure of Hero reminded a lot of IF, or at least games — the slow progression of the protagonist towards the king as he tells the story felt a bit like the levels of a game. I think in general, games are obsessed with telling you exactly how far you’ve progressed through them. i.e. you’re told “Okay, you need to find 5 of these things… you’ve found 3 so far,” or every time you save, you get a completion percentage.

  2. 2 Mark Marino

    That’s a good point. It seems that movies then add to that the time limitation. As in we only have 22 minutes to save the world, to build the dramatic tension. You’re right that many films seem to lay out the major obstacles game-style.

  3. 3 nick

    Jim Monroe’s short film <interactive (direct link to the Real file) seems relevant here.

    There are a few other sorts of IF/motion picture intersections that might be worth mentioning:

    Some books have been made into both movies and IF: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (based ultimately on a radio play, but a similar idea), Fahrenheit 451, the Lord of the Rings trilogy (the IF is the 1980 mainframe game Lord by Olli J. Paavola).

    Some interactive fiction fiction plays pretty directly with things done in particular films or TV shows: Being Andrew Plotkin, the “MST 3000″ parodies of IF.

    Some interactive fiction authors are also filmmakers: Rob Wheeler (The Krone Experiment), Kent Tessman (Apartment Story).

    And of course there’s Get Lamp: The Text Adventure Documentary, now in production.

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