Examining Freedom with "Free Guy"

Nicola Robertson presents an existentially charged movie review.



Copyright 20th Century Studios


You may remember Ryan Reynolds from such films as “Deadpool” and “Deadpool 2” (I joke of course - Reynolds' back catalogue as an actor is as huge as it is somewhat homogenous). His latest comedy vehicle – “Free Guy” – was released in cinemas on August 13th and, much to this viewer’s happy surprise, it offered a great deal of food for thought.


Reynolds plays Guy (AKA Blue Shirt Guy) who lives a repetitive, yet seemingly content, life in Free City. He is unaware that Free City is, in fact, a Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) game and the daily violent robberies, murders and carjackings are being executed by players in the “real world” (a problematic notion, but one which sits just outside my scope here… only just).


Nevertheless, Guy feels a bit empty. He is searching for his soul mate, and he finds her walking down the street humming a Mariah Carey song. She is a “sunglasses person” – a real life player - and so Guy decides that he will also become such a person, thus bypassing the limitations placed on him by the game/his material universe. It is from this point that the movie begins to deal with questions of freedom (as well as being a romantic comedy set against the backdrop of apocalyptic threat, greedy tech entrepreneurs and sentient artificial intelligence).


The film introduces four conceptualisations of freedom:


Determinism

Before his meeting with sunglasses girl, Millie, everything about Guy’s life and personality was predetermined by a combination of a programmed algorithm and the actions of the real-life players. We can say that, in his universe, Guy could not be responsible for his actions and, although he is very much a benign sort of gent anyway, his ability to make moral decisions in either direction was moot. Such were the events of his universe that he does not even judge the actions of the real-life players at this stage as “good” or “bad”. Yet he lived in blissful ignorance and never pondered such things as “freedom” – in a sense he was free from what Kierkegaard characterised as the “dizzying freedom” of anxiety.

Free Will

Cue Guy’s first time wearing the sunglasses. Already, he has deviated from the determinism of his universe as presented at the outset and the glasses help him to do this with even more vigour. Objects only visible to the real-life players also become visible to him and he starts to interact with them. To impress the girl, he decides to level up, but chooses an alternative route to do so away from the gratuitous violence encouraged by the game’s design. He chooses to be a “good guy”, and this choice is indicative of the point where Guy exhibits what we might recognise as a kind of free will, still framed by the limitations of his circumstances but with the feeling that he has the capacity to expound them if he chooses to.

Compatibilism


As he discovers his universe is not a “real” one, Guy becomes aware of himself and the futility of his existence. Still, he works to save it from the threat of annihilation and is transported into a new world, where he and all his buddies live in a walled garden (whether they know it or not). The world they inhabit is still algorithmically designed with a deterministic slant, but the people within believe themselves free. This is compatibilism, and perhaps something we recognise as like our own existence.

Absurdism

Before they get to their final utopia, however, Guy has a conversation with his friend, Buddy, about the futility of the universe and the pointlessness of existence. Buddy, in his homespun wisdom declares, “Who cares!” because isn’t having a good time, helping a friend what life is all about anyway? Why is it important whether the world is real or not real? All that is real is what is directly in front of Buddy at that moment. This is a point of view known as absurdism, and, for me, it represents a special kind of freedom. Buddy has relinquished a thirst for concrete solidity of knowledge and existence, and has decided to make his own meaning of life, whatever life is… He is free from the shackles of expectations, causes and effects, and he is not anchored to an infinite universe by virtue of his thoroughly diminutive place within it.


It is unusual to go to the movies and leave with a sense of existential curiosity (unless one is a regular at the GFT, of course). Behind the comedy, and the romance, and everything else this movie tries to fit in, it is the allegorical method by which they examine freedom which impressed me the most.


This is not Reynolds' first attempt at a video game based movie (lest we forget the beautifully shot but terribly derivative Detective Pikachu?). In this case, though, don’t be fooled by the explicit gaming references, or the sci-fi premise – these are but peripherals to real core of the story. If you are looking for something that will both entertain and make you think, this is the movie of the summer.



Author retains copyright to text. Image copyright of 20th Century Studios.

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