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Episode 216 - Serenity: LIVE! (w/ Nick Kroll)

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HDTGM All-star Nick Kroll (Big Mouth) joins Paul, June, and Jason to discuss the 2019 neo-noir thriller Serenity. Recorded live from Austin City Limits at the Moody Theater, they talk about the big twist that comes way too early, McConaughey being so wet in the movie, the sex scene on the boat, and more.

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I mean, the twist of this movie is just the final episode of St. Elsewhere. It traded an autistic boy looking into a snow globe and reimagining the people in his life, to an autistic boy looking into computer code and reimagining the people in his life.

I know that they don't specifically say that he has autism spectrum disorder, but he's definitely written that way. The stepfather calls him a 'creepy weirdo' who stays in his room all day with his video game, but that his teacher says he's a genius. His mother gets super defensive when he's mentioned. His bedroom is still very childlike. Doesn’t seem to want or have any friends. He's hyper-focused on the world he's created and that world only. He has a strong sense of justice.
Having him actually commit murder was the nail in the coffin for me. After sitting with the movie for a bit I thought maybe I was just reading into things, but then I read some Tweets from a few other people with ASD who felt similarly. I just couldn't enjoy this one. The cat(s) were adorable though. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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I wish they will make a podcast or youtube series about June playing video games that either don't fit her perceptions of video games in general (i.e. Firewatch, What remains of Edith Finch, Stardew Valley) or have a tear-jerking story/ending (i.e. The Last of Us, Telltale's Walking Dead: Season One) and her reactions to those games.

If this game/simulation is sort of being an escape and grief-dealing mechanism for the son, why does he make Baker Dill's life miserable? Baker is constantly strapped for cash, and forced to serve asshole customers. Baker doesn't have to live like a king. Just give him a quiet and idyllic island life that doesn't require him to be constantly worry about money.

And why in the end, after knowing everything is a simulation, does Baker try to make the murder seem like an accident? Why is he so afraid getting seen by the gas station kid? Even the man in glasses, which I assume to be a monitoring AI for the game, basically says, okay, let's murder the man. So even Baker just kills the step dad in front of everyone, no-one is going to arrest or punish him. The "world" literally on his side.  

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This was amazing. I was at the live show in ATX. 

I have two comments from the ep:

1. I lost it when they mentioned Nirvana b/c I tried to send this to them earlier that morning 

2. I can't believe Queen man won the 2nd Opinion slot. I def hoped the girl who did hers to Deep In the Heart of TX would win; The crowd just clapped right with her and flabbergasted Jason, lol. Also, the obligatory "June, John, and Jason".

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Wow I can't believe I have been calling John "Paul" all this time and no one corrected me.

I sort of thought when the son showed up in the video game that it meant he was also dead? (I wasn't sure if he had killed himself or perhaps had been killed for his crimes?) I'll admit to checking out towards the end.

Mostly my take away from this is that maybe I should take a vacation to Florida. And then I googled if it was filmed in Florida and it was not. It was filmed in Mauritius, and I was like, Oh I should go there. But it's kind of far and then I ended up looking in the Caribbean. Long story short, I went to Antigua in May.

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"Serenity now! Insanity later." - Lloyd Braun, if he watched this movie -- Probably,

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6 hours ago, the baa detective said:

 

If this game/simulation is sort of being an escape and grief-dealing mechanism for the son, why does he make Baker Dill's life miserable? Baker is constantly strapped focash, and forced to serve asshole customers. Baker doesn't have to live like a king. Just give him a quiet and idyllic island life that doesn't require him to be constantly worry about money.

But then they couldn't have given us the gem: "a hooker who can't afford hooks." 

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29 minutes ago, Elektra Boogaloo said:

Wow I can't believe I have been calling John "Paul" all this time and no one corrected me.

I sort of thought when the son showed up in the video game that it meant he was also dead? (I wasn't sure if he had killed himself or perhaps had been killed for his crimes?) I'll admit to checking out towards the end.

Mostly my take away from this is that maybe I should take a vacation to Florida. And then I googled if it was filmed in Florida and it was not. It was filmed in Mauritius, and I was like, Oh I should go there. But it's kind of far and then I ended up looking in the Caribbean. Long story short, I went to Antigua in May.

When the son showed up in game, I assumed it was supposed to be a young version of Matthew McConaughey. But I found that I kept over complicating the plot. I thought being the video game was a mild twist (because it seemed kind of obvious and was revealed so early). So, I kept expecting the movie to get crazier. Then it kind of didn't and all my theorizing was for naught.

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TBH, I liked this the whole way through, but I might've not paid attention at some parts b/c I didn't really get the ending. I went on reddit to figure it out lmao

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Just about to start the episode, but in case nobody mentioned

BAKER DILL = BAD KILLER

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1 hour ago, AlmostAGhost said:

Just about to start the episode, but in case nobody mentioned

BAKER DILL = BAD KILLER

This is great but it makes me wonder about the nature of the game.

Did the kid always mean for Matthew McConaughey to kill his step dad in the game? Because it seems like the game started as just hanging with his dad and fishing. If the rules changed to kill his step dad, having an anagram name for Bad Killer makes no sense. That would mean the anagram is just for the audience and it's a complete coincidence on the part of the kid.

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Addressing  Baker Dill being sentient:

He does seemingly start to become sentient when he pulls the knife on the 2 drunk guys in the beginning. That's the beginning of things starting to go awry. I assume that when Baker pulled the knife, this could also be the moment that the kid got the knife in meatspace?

We as the audience know something is off because that's when the salesman first misses Baker, he's very confused as to why Baker isn't there at the coast. He should have been there according to the strict predictability of video game timing. Something changed.

I guess you could assume this is when the kid started to code the game into the new game: killing the stepdad. ?

Before this time, it was just Baker being the player in the fishing game.

I don't think Baker has the literal spirit of the kid's father, but I do think this is the "eaten the forbidden fruit" moment.

Whether he has free will is unclear and doubtful, but I do think he became sentient.

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4 minutes ago, grudlian. said:

This is great but it makes me wonder about the nature of the game.

Did the kid always mean for Matthew McConaughey to kill his step dad in the game? Because it seems like the game started as just hanging with his dad and fishing. If the rules changed to kill his step dad, having an anagram name for Bad Killer makes no sense. That would mean the anagram is just for the audience and it's a complete coincidence on the part of the kid.

Hmmm yea. I was thinking maybe it was like the kid's avatar name. The kid is being Baker Dill in the game in order to kill his stepdad. Was he controlling Baker Dill? He was, in a way, I guess. Was Baker Dill even real? I don't know.

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4 minutes ago, grudlian. said:

This is great but it makes me wonder about the nature of the game.

Did the kid always mean for Matthew McConaughey to kill his step dad in the game? Because it seems like the game started as just hanging with his dad and fishing. If the rules changed to kill his step dad, having an anagram name for Bad Killer makes no sense. That would mean the anagram is just for the audience and it's a complete coincidence on the part of the kid.

They explain this that is close to the name of one of his favorite teachers? First McConaughey says this and then the news broadcasts quotes a teacher with a name that is a riff on Baker Dill.

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One perplexing thing to me: I understand, kinda, how actors like this might sign up for the project. Script pulls in some ideas that sound interesting in combination, etc. The baffling part is why they would continue to push for promotion of the movie after it was done. Presumably they saw it, and yet the stars were reportedly angry that they weren’t sent out on press junkets, onto talk shows, etc. So...do McConaughey and Hathaway just not know how to tell what something is garbage?

(One source: http://etcanada.com/news/413499/matthew-mcconaughey-and-anne-hathaway-reportedly-angry-at-distributor-over-serenity-bombing-at-the-box-office/)

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2 minutes ago, PollyDarton said:

They explain this that is close to the name of one of his favorite teachers? First McConaughey says this and then the news broadcasts quotes a teacher with a name that is a riff on Baker Dill.

But that's in the game. Maybe the kid coded this into the game to cover his tracks?????

Or that's the reason and the anagram is just for us watching the movie. If that's the case, I'm really over people having anagram names in movies.

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2 minutes ago, grudlian. said:

But that's in the game. Maybe the kid coded this into the game to cover his tracks?????

Or that's the reason and the anagram is just for us watching the movie. If that's the case, I'm really over people having anagram names in movies.

The news broadcast is outside the matrix.

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42 minutes ago, PollyDarton said:

I don't think Baker has the literal spirit of the kid's father, but I do think this is the "eaten the forbidden fruit" moment.

Now... what is this a reference to?

/old joke

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Posted (edited)

One can argue that the kid didn't write the "dialogues," didn't decide what his virtual dad, femme fatal mom, and evil step said and did on the island. He merely programmed the AIs, designed their personality, and had them react to each other in a simulation of the real world.  

The problem with this argument is that I'm not sure if the director is capable of doing this as it is apparent he knows very little about how video games/ simulation work. I mean, there is no way a kid, genius or not, armed with only a pc and all the current technology has to offer, can create a sentient AI and a virtual replica of the reality that is real enough to fool a sentient being into believing it's real. Dwarf Fortress is the most complex indie game I can think of, and it takes 2 people and it's still not finished. 

Edited by the baa detective
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25 minutes ago, the baa detective said:

One can argue that the kid didn't write the "dialogues," didn't decide what his virtual dad, femme fatal mom, and evil step said and did on the island. He merely programmed the AIs, designed their personality, and had them react to each other in a simulation of the real world.  

This was my interpretation, and I think it's borne out by some of that out-of-nowhere voiceover that gestures at how consciousness might be an emergent property of this kind o code.  But as the gang touched on several times  — and what was really at the heart of June's confusion whether this was a video game at all — it's not clear whether the son is playing his own game.

Like, when you see screenshots that are anything but code, it appears to be a relatively simple-looking first-person view of a person fishing off a boat, which suggests he's playing as Baker Dill. But if you take everything that's happening in Plymouth as how it appears to Baker Dill, and not how the kid sees it, you're positing that Dill is an AI consciousness, not as an avatar the kid is merely piloting around.  

That distinction is super important because it's the answer to the question of "who makes the decision to kill Abusive Greek Dad?" It seems to me that the kid has already made up his mind and is guiding Dill to that conclusion. Which means Dill doesn't have agency and there really are no consequences for the moral dilemma he's placed in (especially the last minute wrinkle with Lucky Gas Pumper, as you said earlier).     

But all this really goes back to what Jason said at the top of the audience Q&A — if the questions are about the internal logic of the video game world, we can just stop right now because there simply aren't answers to be found.  

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2 hours ago, billchilds said:

One perplexing thing to me: I understand, kinda, how actors like this might sign up for the project. Script pulls in some ideas that sound interesting in combination, etc. The baffling part is why they would continue to push for promotion of the movie after it was done. Presumably they saw it, and yet the stars were reportedly angry that they weren’t sent out on press junkets, onto talk shows, etc. So...do McConaughey and Hathaway just not know how to tell what something is garbage?

Considering that this movie opened with 5 different production company logos, my guess is that, at one point, the script was pretty good, but as more and more producers were brought in, more things started to change and things deteriorated.

With movies and video games both, the more producers, the more of a mess things become.

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1 hour ago, the baa detective said:

One can argue that the kid didn't write the "dialogues," didn't decide what his virtual dad, femme fatal mom, and evil step said and did on the island. He merely programmed the AIs, designed their personality, and had them react to each other in a simulation of the real world.  

The problem with this argument is that I'm not sure if the director is capable of doing this as it is apparent he knows very little about how video games/ simulation work. I mean, there is no way a kid, genius or not, armed with only a pc and all the current technology has to offer, can create a sentient AI and a virtual replica of the reality that is real enough to fool a sentient being into believing it's real. Dwarf Fortress is the most complex indie game I can think of, and it takes 2 people and it's still not finished. 

I dunno, for narrative purposes I am willing to suspend disbelief that the characters within the game buy their world as real, and to express that to the audience (and to not give away the twist) the world has to seem real.
This actually touches on something I was thinking about this movie and that it lacks a stylization. How interesting would it have been that when the twist were to be revealed that the world got more and more video game like... Less detailed, the same NPCs walking down the street, more obvious souless behavior... even some pixelization?

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11 hours ago, the baa detective said:

If this game/simulation is sort of being an escape and grief-dealing mechanism for the son, why does he make Baker Dill's life miserable? Baker is constantly strapped for cash, and forced to serve asshole customers. Baker doesn't have to live like a king. Just give him a quiet and idyllic island life that doesn't require him to be constantly worry about money.

And why in the end, after knowing everything is a simulation, does Baker try to make the murder seem like an accident? Why is he so afraid getting seen by the gas station kid? Even the man in glasses, which I assume to be a monitoring AI for the game, basically says, okay, let's murder the man. So even Baker just kills the step dad in front of everyone, no-one is going to arrest or punish him. The "world" literally on his side.  

 

2 hours ago, PollyDarton said:

Addressing  Baker Dill being sentient:

He does seemingly start to become sentient when he pulls the knife on the 2 drunk guys in the beginning. That's the beginning of things starting to go awry. I assume that when Baker pulled the knife, this could also be the moment that the kid got the knife in meatspace?

We as the audience know something is off because that's when the salesman first misses Baker, he's very confused as to why Baker isn't there at the coast. He should have been there according to the strict predictability of video game timing. Something changed.

 

2 hours ago, AlmostAGhost said:

Hmmm yea. I was thinking maybe it was like the kid's avatar name. The kid is being Baker Dill in the game in order to kill his stepdad. Was he controlling Baker Dill? He was, in a way, I guess. Was Baker Dill even real? I don't know.

The nerdlinger salesman guy says that, at one point, the game was just about fishing but then became about killing the virtual stepfather. So, my original take is that the salesman represents a character in the game whose role became obsolete as the focus of the game's critical path changed. The salesman seems to also become sentient because he is constantly showing up late to meet Dill when meeting Dill is his only purpose in the game, so the fact that they keep missing each other confuses him, he somehow starts to question why this is the case, and BAM! nerdlinger comes online as a sentient being.

But the movie also portrays nerdlinger as a "The Architect" from the Matrix type, in that he says "I am the rules" and somehow knows what the overall objective of the game is ... or at least, what it used to be when it was just a fishing simulator. Placing him in both roles -- a standard NPC for Dill to interact with and also the embodiment of the game's overall AI -- is perhaps the worst aspect of the way this movie was written.

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35 minutes ago, The_Triple_Lindy said:

Considering that this movie opened with 5 different production company logos, my guess is that, at one point, the script was pretty good, but as more and more producers were brought in, more things started to change and things deteriorated.

With movies and video games both, the more producers, the more of a mess things become.

Totally! I’m mostly confused about why they continued to want to promote it even after it was done and plainly dumb. I suppose maybe they just already had their schedules open and ready to go on Fallon or whatever and they were annoyed that they had to make other plans.

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I posit to this forum that there never is a moment where Dill actually becomes sentient. By necessity, he is always doing exactly what his coding as a video game character tells him to do.

The salesman character says that the game used to be just about fishing, but then slowly became about committing this murder, which implies that the IRL kid has changed the focus of a game he's creating. Fair enough -- the evolution of a piece of work is a natural part of game development, and artistic creation in general. 

But if the game has been changed, so too must Dill's coding also have been changed. The murder of the stepdad avatar is the game's new critical path. If Dill and Plymouth Island and all the NPCs are in existence, this means the game must be turned on and someone is playing. If not, it can only be that these characters are just alive and functioning of their own freewill in the game, in spite of what the player is having them do. And that is what is known as a "broken game" -- when the character doesn't do what the player tells them to, the game is broken.

What this must mean, therefore, is that Dill's "coming into awareness" is part of what he's programmed to do as part of the course of gameplay. He is still doing what his code is stating he should do.

This is classic determinist philosophy. Freewill is predicated by one's ability to choose and then act upon that choice. If the choice is made for you and if your actions are not of your volition, you don't have freewill. IRL kid is essentially the god/creator of the in-game universe. Nothing happens in the game that the creator doesn't know will happen. If Dill's awakening is something god knew would happen, then it isn't really sentience. He's still just doing what he's programmed to do. He has the illusion of freewill, but not actual freewill because he doesn't transcend his programming.

If Dill has any consciousness, it can only be in a Get Out-type scenario, where Dill is aware of himself and somehow still being carried along on the game's path against his will or better judgment.

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