Steven Spielberg once again shows why he is one of the most influential directors in cinema with his newest project “Ready Player One.” The plot, which centers around a virtual reality world, video games and countless 80s pop culture references, may seem a little too nerdy for a casual viewer. It is the underlying lessons about reality and self-confidence, however, which make this film a hidden gem.
Spielberg’s much anticipated return to sci-fi is inspired by the Ernest Cline novel of the same name. The novel has remained on the New York Times Bestsellers list for 18 weeks straight.
In “Ready Player One,” citizens of the year 2045 struggle to find happiness or purpose in a world that has seemingly exhausted all of its resources. Main character Wade Watts lives in the poorest section of Columbus, Ohio called the “stacks” (which is just a bunch of trailers stacked on top of each other) with his aunt and her deadbeat boyfriend. Wade, along with billions of others around the world, lives vicariously through a virtual reality world called the O.A.S.I.S. to escape the harsh and dreadful realities of the real world.
In the O.A.S.I.S., users are able to customize their character’s looks, make new friends, go on adventures, earn currency and even find love. Essentially, this virtual reality world gives users the opportunity to be whoever they want while remaining anonymous in the real world.
We come to learn that the deceased creator of this virtual world, James Halliday (played brilliantly by Mark Rylance), has left his entire fortune and control of the O.A.S.I.S. to whoever could solve a three-part puzzle hidden somewhere inside the world. While the large majority of users have given up trying to beat the challenge, Watts and a few other committed “gunters” (egg hunters) continue trying to dissect Halliday’s life, interests and shortcomings with the hopes of solving the puzzle.
The band of “gunters” include Wade (virtually known as Parzival) and his virtual best friend Aech (Lena Waithe), his love interest Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), and secondary characters Daito and Sho. Their biggest rival is the large corporation known as “IOI” and their money hungry CEO Nolan Sorrento (played by the smug Ben Mendelsohn). IOI, who develops most of the gear needed to access the O.A.S.I.S., has amassed a large army of debt-indentured players to try to help them pull the virtual reality world under corporate control.
Eventually IOI discovers Wade’s real identity and begins threatening him in the real world. As this happens, Spielberg brilliantly intertwines action between the characters in virtual reality and the characters in the real world. As soon as Wade’s character Parzival escapes danger in the O.A.S.I.S., the real Wade encounters some sort of tangible threat in the “stacks.” This creates an interesting dynamic as the film progresses because Wade and his virtual friends are forced to have the self-confidence to come out from behind the anonymity of virtual reality and confront IOI as real human beings. This proves to be especially difficult for Wade’s love interest Art3mis who, despite having one of the most captivating and attractive avatars in the O.A.S.I.S., admits to Wade that “You only know what I want you to know and you only see what I want you to see.” Reflecting on the significance of being anonymous online proved to be a major theme throughout the film.
Another major theme incorporated into the plot of “Ready Player One” was the consequence of spending so much time in a virtual reality world. While many of these struggling citizens were able to escape their gloomy lives to thrive in the O.A.S.I.S., they began to forget how special actual human interaction is. The characters learn that despite creating the most successful business of his time, James Halliday spent so much time focusing on the O.A.S.I.S. that he regretted not taking more chances in the real world. At one point during the film, Halliday’s avatar reminds Wade that, “Reality is the only thing that’s real.” Especially during this age of cell phones, video games and social media, the weight of this message cannot be understated.
Ultimately, “Ready Player One” does an excellent job at conveying meaningful lessons to its viewers about self-confidence and reality. Spielberg also does a masterful job at incorporating action and excitement into both the CGI O.A.S.I.S. and the real world. The abundance of 80s references and nerdy jokes were well-written and integrated. While some parts of the plot didn’t make sense, this film succeeded in so many other ways that it was hard to even notice.