“Mason, anyone who thinks they know the answer to life is full of shit.” This line of dialogue, delivered at a turning point of Mad Genius, rolled around in my mind long after I finished watching it. In fact, it would be the line I would continue to think about after I watched it a second time. That’s right. I watched Mad Genius again mere hours after the first viewing. This is not normal for me.
However, Mad Genius is one of those movies where you question what you watched and have the distinct feeling that you missed the point during your first viewing. In many ways, it was like the first time I watched Fight Club or The Matrix. Once it was over, I felt the need to watch it again with the knowledge gained from my first viewing. Unfortunately, re-watching Mad Genius wasn’t nearly as revelatory as a second viewing of either of those amazing movies.
Mad Genius is set in a dystopian near-future with a cyber-punk flavor but is never very specific about the setting or timeline. It tells the story of a rebellious hacker named Mason, played by Chris Mason of Vampire Academy and Broadchurch. When Mason isn’t using his hacking skills to fight The Man, he’s broadcasting manifesto videos to an underground online forum. He hides his identity from the authorities by wearing different stylized fox masks in the videos. His alias for these videos is Mr. Vix. (Similar to the group Anonymous wearing Guy Fawkes masks.)
The movie opens with Mason recording a video where he lays out his plan for the ultimate hack: the human brain itself. Viewing humans as flawed, Mason intends to rewrite the human mind to evolve humanity. He is confident, intelligent, and bold as he lays out his reasoning. Here we meet Mason’s Tyler Durden-like alter-ego, Finn. Mason’s alter-ego mockingly reminds him they don’t have what they need to pull off this grand plan.
Finn is a mental projection that Mason has conjured to make up for some of his weaknesses. Unlike Edward Norton in Fight Club, Mason is well aware that Finn is completely imaginary. Finn insults Mason’s lack of focus and constantly pushes him to be more aggressive and focus on his plan. Finn is the alpha male that Mason wants to be. The aggressive male ego incarnate. Interactions between the two are well-written, well-acted, often-times funny, and make for some of the best parts of the film.
Mason and Finn head out to find Zip, an unreliable junkie/programmer who lives in a sort of cyber-punk drug den run by the enigmatic Sun-Moon. Zip is supposed to deliver the code to allow Mason to map the human brain. Mason meets with Sun-Moon to locate Zip and learns that a man named Eden has killed another hacker friend of Mason’s, who was working with Mason on his plan to hack humanity. After the warning from Sun-Moon, Mason locates Zip, who has not finished the code and is in a drug-induced coma.
After a humorous scene of Mason feebly trying to intimidate Zip while Finn encourages violence, Mason and Finn meet Sawyer. Sawyer is a pretty young woman who both Mason and Finn are instantly drawn to. Philosophically, she is the opposite of Mason, believing humanity to be flawed, but beautiful. She becomes the voice of reason in the movie and is the character who utters the line still ringing in my ears.
Eventually, Zip agrees to finish the code for Mason, but Mason needs one more item for his plan: a neural headset. Eden, the same man who killed Mason’s hacker friend, happens to have such a headset. Mason and Finn must break into Eden’s secret bunker and steal the headset in order to use Zip’s coding to map Mason’s brain. Eden is a dangerous, calculating villain played in truly menacing fashion by Faran Tahir.
The plot takes a mind-bending twist once Mason and Finn finally obtain the headset and use it to map Mason’s brain. As reality itself seems to fracture around Mason, he must also contend with the vengeful Eden hunting him down. By the time the credits rolled, I realized that this movie wasn’t about what I originally thought. I had many questions about the characters and the world around Mason. I sat and pondered the story and kept coming back to the same line. “Mason, anyone who thinks they know the answer to life is full of shit.” Something clicked. Then I felt that I understood what the movie had actually been about.
The second time around, I hoped to catch smaller things in the movie that would support my theory. I did pick up several things the second time through. But when the credits rolled, I had an entirely different theory. Unlike Fight Club or The Matrix, I still didn’t really know with clarity what the truth of the story was. I kept coming back to that line and finally decided maybe that was the point: no one has the answer. Or if they do, they are full of shit.
Mad Genius Final Score – 7/10
This movie is a real thinker. The story is well written and very thought-provoking. If you enjoy movies that leave you pondering and require multiple viewings, I think you will really enjoy Mad Genius. If that doesn’t sound like your thing, you would probably do well to avoid it.
It’s available now on Amazon or various other VOD platforms.