I went down the river Netflix in order to define it. I returned changed, fatigued, and understood by Michael Douglas. The horror.
Some weeks (it seems months) ago, I had been tasked to write an article concerning the Netflix phenomenon. This, as one might guess, would involve watching a lot of Netflix. The catch, I was informed, would be that a list of programs was already compiled (without my influence), the reasoning being that I’d be able to immerse myself untainted, then we’d “go from there.”
If high profile content like House of Cards, Marvel’s Daredevil, or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt were the skin, then I was to plunge my hands beyond that cosmetically pampered layer and soak them in the pulsing, stinking viscera that gave it form.
Speed 2: Cruise Control, The Animal, 13 Going On 30. It was ugly.
As my cursor hovered over the link to 2005’s aquatic thriller Into the Blue, I found myself averting the piercing baby blues of late star Paul Walker to survey the remainder of the media that had been compiled for my viewing pleasure. Suddenly, the seemingly minor hurdle that was to be the first click seemed more like a tightrope tied to a murky post, a pit I’d discover more than 60 grueling hours into the dim future.
There were a couple of good ones mercifully thrown into the mix, but most of them I had already seen. (I thought I was going in untainted?) If my mission was going to be true, surely I couldn’t give myself a time-out by covering familiar ground? Could I? I could already see the list itself wouldn’t suffice, and for the sake of objectivity I would have to go off-road. But when?
By this time, I was weeks into the assignment without a minute to my name, and acting on the urge to turf the entire list seemed like a giant leap backwards. I settled on four films. Four films from the list would be enough for Netflix to sketch up a rough idea of my preferences after which point I would allow it to take me by the hand and guide me the rest of the way.
The cursor floated over to the little x and closed my window, satisfied with the terms of today’s mental negotiation; determined to start tomorrow with renewed zeal. Tomorrow took on a new meaning and a week passed without so much as a glance at the list.
Ashamed of my own cowardice, I enlisted the help of a friend and a bottle of fortified wine to ease me into the process. The debutante was a low-budget Japanese horror-comedy called Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl, a bizarre cocktail of low-budget gore and high school social commentary that became surprisingly predictable, if you sided with the least sane/plausible turn of events for each scene. It was by every definition, pretty shit, but the alcohol and company made it at the very least pretty damn entertaining.
Riding the crest of euphoria brought on by VG vs FG, I knocked off two more films in quick succession (quick being a term relative to how much time had initially been wasted), but what started as a sprint quickly turned into a saunter and I found my enthusiasm again beginning to wane. I had watched Transporter 3 and followed it up with the recent Mel Gibson vehicle Get The Gringo and found myself returning to the shores of apathy. Both films varied in quality, and though there was no desire to cease the experiment, there was also no compulsion to continue.
The addictive phenomenon that was meant to be Netflix had let me down.
Frustration crept in as I again looked reluctantly into the future. So much crap waiting politely in line to pollute my memory and take the place of a potentially better film. The article was bust, and in forcing myself to binge, it wouldn’t work. There was no addictive element to Netflix; it was dependent on the user, not the content. On its own, an inert presence, a tool.
With the conclusion drawn, I was now unshackled, able to watch or not watch whatever the hell I wanted. With Get the Gringo still fresh and Mel Gibson’s masterpiece Apocalypto conveniently on Netflix, I guiltlessly settled in to watch it for the umpteenth time. Comfort’s embrace tightened.
Strange scribbled notes, with the heading “4am,” and below a series of half-cooked, abusive Michael Douglas references. Evidently, I had landed at Basic Instinct.
Michael Douglas had stopped mid-sentence, his blurred and frozen grimace devolved into pixels and was soon after replaced by an open circle perpetually chasing its own tail. I sat up. Maybe I’d bumped my laptop or something. I let it buffer. Nothing.
As Netflix remembers your progress, I saw no harm in giving both myself and Basic Instinct a little reprieve. I went back to my profile page to check if I still had an internet connection. Netflix has an annoying habit of not counting a film as watched until you’ve allowed the credits to play out; as a result, its suggestions are littered with films I’d long finished. So, as my profile assembled itself, I was confronted, like a murderer haunted by his past victims, with a gallery of “unfinished” films.
And with Paul Verhoeven’s sleazy masterpiece at the tail end, the gears finally began to turn.
Much like Douglas in Basic Instinct, I was a man battling his own narrative, attempting to yank myself free of the tendrils of fate and in the process stumbling deeper down the path already laid out. And like Douglas’ initial assumptive distrust of Sharon Stone, I was wary of Netflix’s appeal. Its modus operandi well known to me through alternate sources, I had entered the fray unwilling to submit and expecting a result.
Much like Sharon Stone, Netflix responded without pretense, putting everything upfront and forcing me to confront my own prejudices, my own demons; as the courtship continued, my blame had shifted to the question and Netflix’s innocence was, to me, apparent.
Throwing the case aside, I was free to indulge; guiltlessly, gluttonously, I explored what Netflix had to offer, believing all this time I had freed myself and it from scrutiny, that I had seen past the veneer.