As recently as ten years ago, a science fiction story set in a world in which privacy has been outlawed would have seemed foreign, perhaps even ludicrous. The government and big business, working together as one? That’s the type of stuff conspiracies are made of, kid! But the reality is that, in 2018, the premise of Andrew Niccol’s newest high concept film Anon seems less like a crazy what-if scenario and more of a glance into our not too distant future. The premise that privacy has been outlawed for the greater good of eradicating crime, and all citizens’ lives can be seen through an ocular implant feels like the world we’re presently building toward.
In the world of Anon, not only are all of your subjective memories recorded into a database called “the ether,” but you can identify who a person is and what they do just by looking at them. Gone is the clutter of billboards, advertising, and even televisions in this world, as all advertisements have been installed straight into locations that transmit the ads straight to your brain. Anon stars Clive Owen in a jaded lead performance as Sal Frieland, a cop tasked with solving a series of murders in which the victims’ memories have been hacked and replaced with the point of view of the murderer’s. The biggest problem preventing the police force from solving this crime? The only suspect’s identification pops up as UNKNOWN: ERROR. The suspect, played by Amanda Seyfried and credited only as “The Girl,” is a hacker whose m.o. consists of recruiting victims from dark web message boards who wish to have a memory erased, only for said victim to turn up dead shortly thereafter.
Despite the incredible world building in Anon, the final effort falls a bit short in finding a narrative as interesting as the world containing it. Niccol is a virtuoso when it comes to crafting fascinating premises; he came out swinging in the late 90s with the one-two punch of Gattaca and The Truman Show, but has found himself gasping for air ever since. His career is peppered with great premises undone by bad plots like S1m0ne and In Time. Every twist and turn in Anon is broadcast early on and explained in painful slabs of exposition that signify Niccol does not trust his audience to pick up on his themes.
Still: it’s a bit of a minor miracle that Anon exists. Fewer and fewer studios are taking risks on original science fiction stories that aren’t sequels or remakes, and even if the final product here is a tad derivative (if the premise gave you flashbacks to Black Mirror, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or even Blade Runner, you’re not alone), it is an auteur-driven science fiction work birthed not from a franchise but from an original story by a very singular voice. Anon isn’t as revolutionary as the laws of the world it’s showcasing, but it’s far from ludicrous and a promising sign that original sci-fi isn’t dead after all.
Anon is available to stream on Netflix now.