Total Communication
by Douglas Trumbull
Played by: Robert Carrillo Cohen

Main Quote:
"Why do you have to die to let go?."
-- Dr. Michael Brace, Brainstorm

Relationship to the Core Wave:
"Is communication without mediation possible? If there is no "in between" is there any outside?"
-- r.c.c.

Game I Core Wave: "The primary distinction between inside and outside."

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Connection Tunnels

  • The Glass Bead Game
  • Sacred Geometry
  • Synthetic Pleasures

    Highlight Quotes

    "You've blown communications as we've known it right out of the water. "
    --Alex Terson, Brainstorm

    "It sure beats dirty magazines."

    "Something happened to me. It was more than a sexual fantasy. It was a feeling I had. I'm more than I was Mike. More. "
    --Gordy Forbes, Brainstorm

    "We made it. Look at the stars. I love you."
    --Michael Brace, Brainstorm

  • Highlight

    Excerpt from "UNDERSTANDING COMICS" by Scott McCloud:

    I included the previous excerpt from "Understanding Comics" because it goes to the heart of my most passionate dream as an artist. My ideal dream work of art would be to create a communication that would accurately transfer how I feel on the inside, especially when that feeling is, "I love you."

    The film Brainstorm contains for me the most emotionally powerful representation of just such communication.
    Michael Brace (Christopher Walken) and Lillian Reynolds (Louise Fletcher) have invented a helmet device that records "sights, sounds, sensations, thoughts, feelings, emotions, even your dreams and nightmares.... A touch of a button transfers these personal experiences from one mind to another." Brace is in the process of getting a divorce from his wife Karen (Natalie Wood), who is working on their team, sculpting a better model for the record and playback helmet. Neither Karen or Michael seem happy about the impending divorce but the wheels are in motion, there are too many accumulated problems, and it appears that there is nothing that either of them can do about it. The movie as a whole has some intensely powerful metaphors and scenes. There is one sequence, however, that I have never forgotten. Whenever, I watch or recollect the scene, I find myself close to tears from the intense beauty I feel in it.

    Karen comes in to show a new design to Michael, but Michael ignores her, asking her instead to sit down for a recording of her inner experience. After the recording Michael puts on the helmet and plays back the experience. What happens next is that Michael unexpectedly feels her anger and sees scenes of himself ignoring her and being selfish with her in the past. The recording makes Michael feel anger himself and he takes off the helmet yelling, "That's not me. That's not me your looking at. It's you." He storms out of the room.

    That night he plays the tape over, coming to understand his behavior from her point of view. He begins to record something else from his own thoughts and editing the recordings of his inner world into a compilation.

    I'll repeat here that I'll never forget these images or this sequence and especially what happens next. For me it may be the most powerful moment ever committed to film. Michael walks in to find Karen in their old bedroom. He is carrying an experience player in a case and a helmet. He walks directly up to Karen and hands her the helmet. He says, "I made that for you. Its a gift." Karen asks, "What is it?" and he replies, "Its me."

    Its me. Its me. Oh to say those words. Karen puts on the helmet and is swept up into a montage of Michael's feelings for her. We see clips of their wedding, their laughter, their play, their happiest moments, and his deepest feelings for her. She takes off the helmet and says, "We blew it." They end up talking and playing and laughing into the night. They pull out old boxes and put on their old wedding clothes. They make love.

    Yes its a fantasy but it is a fantasy I feel so deeply. On every level I want my communications to reveal who I am and what I'm feeling to the people I love, to my friends and to you. But which words will be right to you? Which words will evoke the same experiences for you? Which gestures? Which inflections will communicate what I am feeling and what I am being inside? How often do I feel that it won't be the word's and gestures I know and use out of habit?

    This human fantasy and technology seem to go hand in hand. From the technology of language itself to computers we seem obsessed with finding ways to re-create experience. I am not so sure that technology is the only answer. I am very fond of resting my forehead against the forehead of someone I care about for long periods. Nothing conscious usually happens but I have the feeling of intense communication. Shamans and other explorers of consciousness have used altered states to experience experiences beyond their own.

    Later in the film, Lillian has a heart attack. She knows she is going to die so she puts a helmet on and hits record. And now the film goes straight to the heart of our greatest quandary as human beings. What happens to us when we die and what might that reveal to us about why and how we live?

    Michael plays back the tape but begins to have a heart attack himself. He turns off the kinesthetic (physical) part of the play back and tries again. At the moment of death we float up above Lillian, looking down at her body, until the image snaps into a glass bead - one of thousands in thousands of rows - each containing memory images and as we fly into an individual bead we fly into that memory. Michael bounces from bead to bead re-experiencing Lillian's memories.

    Michael is prevented from playing the tape to the end. The rest of the film is muddled a bit by chase sequences as Michael attempts to play the end of the tape. A cliche image of angles flying into a bright white light also detracts a bit from the powerful ideas present as the film ends. Karen shakes Michael, trying to prevent him from going with the experience and hence dying. Michael comes back to her and notes that mankind has achieved a rational scientific view of the ultimate mystical experience. A bridge between mind and spirit, science and religion, concepts often held to be exclusive and separate (outside) but which are I believe also one (inside). In the last lines of the film Michael says to Karen, "We made it. Look at the stars. I love you." The camera pulls back and their image snaps into a glass bead and flies along with thousands of other beads.


    The ancient god of communication is Hermes. The messenger god. With wings on his ankles the messenger is always "in between." All communication is mediated (in the middle)? Media is "in between?" From this perspective, it follows that senders and receivers are seperated (outside). Some communications are more mediated than others? A television program is more mediated than a play? Perhaps a tape recording of your friend playing guitar is less mediated than a giant rock concert, even though it's live?

    Although it may be possible to communicate via an altered state or perception (in which we perceive no distinction between ourselves and other) our predominent cultural perception is of distinctions between ourselves and other (outside). Nevertheless, as individuals and as a species we dream of the bridge or the perception that transforms separation and distinction to unity, from outside to inside and beyond.

    When I began planning to play this idea and this film as a move in the Game, I was largely focused on my own ideas of "total communication," "Brainstorm" and my own ideas for creating personal montages from popular "media." While looking for images to use from this move I was impressed to find a lot more information about "total communication."

    Douglas Trumbull, the director of Brainstorm (and the special effects designer for "2001," "Blade Runner" and "Close Encounters" among many others), has taken his interest in immersive experience, and pushed it to the limits, creating immersive films for IMAX and rides like "Back to the Future" at Universal and "Secrets of the Luxor Pyramid" in Vegas. In a recent Wired Magazine interview he answered the following question:

    "WIRED: So what will the next big leap be? TRUMBULL: I honestly believe that the next big leap in immersive technology will be very much like Brainstorm. We're not that far from being able to plant images, memories, and emotional states directly into the brain. I think that the whole business of stereophonic sound and virtual reality glasses are a transitory state. And I've had it confirmed to me - just in the last month - that very powerful work is going on in this direction right now. I visited a scientist who had a helmet with magnetic fields controlled by computer sequences that could profoundly affect your mood and your perceptions. There's some work out there that's going into some really amazing territory."

    The work Trumbull refers to is most likely the work of M. A. Persinger. I had the privilege of working on two documentaries about UFO's (as a researcher for Horizon and as associate producer on The Discovery Channel's "Where are the UFO's) and Persinger was interviewed in both films. Persinger demonstrates in both films a chamber that he uses with electro-magnetic fields that cause a person to feel things as diverse as emotional swings to a presence in the room. Only while playing this move did I recall the connection."

    -- Robert C. Cohen

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