A picture of a large robot running towards the screen in shades of blue and grey. From the movie Ready Player One.

Ready Player One, Part Magic, Part Warning

Do you know who you are?

Who do you long to be? When you imagine the life you have– the career, the abilities, the relationships, or even just your hair– who do you conjure?  In The Oasis, a virtual land constructed with a visionary’s deepest dreams (and fears), through a series of life-affirming adventures, you can take the form of the hero you’ve always hoped to be.

“Ready Player One,” a Steven Spielberg masterpiece, based on the 2011, novel of the same title, centers on Wade’s (Tye Sheridan) avatar and his virtual clan as they change from lonely nobodies in the real world to highly talented champions of the electronic one. Together, they attempt to accomplish what hasn’t been done since the inception of The Oasis: beat the game. Inherit billions.

In 1999, the world marveled as we learned of “The Matrix” and its hold on humankind. We rallied with Neo and his team as they dedicated their lives to freeing the world from a virtual prison.

Today, we celebrate jacking in.

The Oasis is the culmination of all of our tech-fantasies where 80s pop culture is king. The real world stands for poverty, displacement, collapse. But with a suit, some goggles, and a wi-fi connection, those fantasies set the whimsical conditions of life. Friends, fun, and even hope are in abundant supply.

“Ready Player One” is part magic, part warning.

Spielberg, like a magi, takes his time weaving together the glittering threads of this ensemble cast, dual-world day dream. The exploration of the imagination has been sloppy these past couple decades. Plot lines sag, overwhelmed by unnecessary story elements. The attempt to capture all demographics weakens structure, accommodating the flesh of too many genres.

Yet, our director, re-stakes his claim as head-creator-in-the-game with his ability to tell a multi-genre, multi-era fairy-tale that has something for everyone in such a way that it is still personal, still human. It’s not just electronic. It’s expressive. It’s deep.

But it’s not perfect.

Though the tale illuminates the irony of over-connectedness and its correlation with hyper-loneliness, the need for romance is just not there. Friendship and self-esteem are enough to craft an honest teen experience. After all is said and done, the prospect of romance is more powerful, and more genuinely balances what The Oasis lacks.

The respect for RPO lies in the reminder that the fantasy will never truly suffice. It cannot meet human needs. Flesh is meant to be felt, eyes made to be gazed upon. The body itself is electric, a source of power that needs connection to become the most brilliant version of itself. Only real touch with real hands, real hearts can bring the “you” from within out into reality.

“Ready Player One,” currently downloaded in theaters worldwide, warns us to hold tight to real love, our true selves. No matter how virtual tech becomes, as long as we adhere to that, life will transform from being just a game to the adventure we are born to be.

Lonita Cook

Lonita Cook is a BetterKC Film Critic (KCTV5), and the author of the paranormal romance novel, The Chronicles of Cyn: Awaken the Sleeper.

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