Friday, December 07, 2007

Hitman, or On Nerds

Hot on the heels of Beowulf - real story wanting desperately to look like shitty videogame - here's Hitman, a shitty videogame that wants desperately to have a real story.

Hitman is a masterfully calculated piece of demographic media, a cruise missile targeted square at the glowing red spot of nerd culture. Anthropologists seeking to understand the nerd - his hopes, dreams, self-actualised projections and woeful social inadequacies - need look no further than this admirably half-assed exercise in stylistic masturbation.

(How half-assed is Hitman? At one point, the titular innominate is in a fancy-schmancy hotel being pursued by, I don't know, ninjas or something, and the set-dressing consists of bits of paper with numbers printed on them sellotaped to the doors so as to convey the notion of "hotel". I am not making this up).

The Hitman himself, while at first seeming like a shockingly characterless non-protagonist, soon proves to be ingeniously characterised in the same way the original Halo's Master Chief was ingenious. His baldness, his monastic dedication to fetishistically futuristic tech, his brooding sexlessness: all exist to posit the Hitman as a blank slate, an unadorned template, onto which every frustrated nerd can project himself. Like a customisable character whose features have not yet been chosen by the player, Timothy Olyphant's bland staunch-white-guy nonperformance elevates him to mythic levels of identifiability: he becomes the Everynerd.

What character the Hitman is allowed to exert conforms perfectly to how nerds talk when trying to sound tough or savvy: all clipped imperatives, minimal aggrandisements. In the Hitman and in nerds both, this is motivated by a total dearth of basic social grace: but it's been a hard road for the Hitman, a lifetime of constraint and arbitrary conformity and brutal conditioning. Again, then, the Hitman's background, from what we're allowed to know of it, is that which every nerd secretly sees himself as having undergone: a Punishing Gauntlet You Could Never Understand. He may be glamorously fucked-up, but it's with a purpose.

If the Hitman is how every nerd sees himself, his sidekick, often-naked Olga Kurylenko, is what every nerd wants women to be. Relentlessly derided, tortured and humiliated, she responds to every berating with progressively less-subtle sexual advances. (And her idea of a subtle sexual advance is, "remember, I'm not wearing any panties"). There is no woman in Hitman who is not at some point horribly mistreated, but Kurylenko's character responds to the Hitman's grating social dysfunction with unyielding, dripping admiration. The worse his Asberger's-level social skills compel to treat her, the more she wants him! Wow, this must be how real women are, out there in the world!

But hey, if it gets the geeks renting some Bond movies for a realistic depiction of world politics and human social dynamics - it can't be all bad, right?

[Appears edited at Flicks]