Film: Overdrawn at the Memory Bank

In a World where oppressive MegaCorps rake in billions of ill-earned dollars while treating their workers like slaves... a Toronto production company decided to adapt one of John Varley's Eight Worlds short stories into a Made-for-TV Movie. Finding financing from New York PBS station WNET and somehow acquiring Raul Julia as the lead, they unleashed a production called Overdrawn at the Memory Bank. It was the third (and last, due to not being able to get funding for any more) in a series of films by PBS that were adapted from literary works of science fiction. The first two were 1972's Between Time and Timbuktu, an adaptation of several Kurt Vonnegut stories, and 1980's The Lathe of Heaven, based on the Ursula K. Le Guin novel of the same title. Both were generally well-received. This film...not so much.

In a future that is only marginally more dystopian than the present, Aram Fingal is a bored programmer working for Novicorp, and earns his superiors' ire by "scrolling up cinemas" at work, particularly Casablanca. The solution, of course, is "prophylactic rehab," a two-week (or two days, depending on the scene) vacation in which his consciousness is "doppled" into a wild animal at a nature preserve. Under the supervision of Computech Apollonia James, Fingal experiences life as a decrepit old baboon until the animals on the preserve get trashed on ripe fruit and place his temporary body in danger, prompting him to activate an escape clause.

Unfortunately, a little hellraising kid screwed around with the label on Fingal's body, so the technicians supervising his little adventure have no idea where it is. Once this news leaks out via an industrial spy, the all-powerful Novicorp chairman orders that Fingal's mind be stored in the HX368 supercomputer, which runs everything from finances to the weather. Meanwhile, the technicians race to hunt down Fingal's body, since he only has a few hours real time before his mind starts to break down without it.

At first Fingal creates a simulation of a typical work day, but he quickly grows bored and starts boinking a simulacrum of a hot co-worker. Once cybersex loses its charm, Fingal builds his own version of Casablanca, complete with a Rick character that is his own digital double. Apollonia warns him not to cause too much trouble, but our Fingal is a little rebel, and starts messing around with Novicorp finances while inside the HX368, also causing catastrophic weather disasters around the globe in a fit of whimsy. Soon the Chairman is dispatching his own electronic agents to kill Fingal, while Apollonia sides with the renegade programmer as she tracks down his body.

At a final showdown at Rick's bar, Fingal "interfaces" with the mainframe, orders the Chairman into a month of compulsory rehab, redistributes Novicorp shares to the downtrodden employees, and makes new Casablanca-themed identities for himself and Apollonia as he vows to fight the system. It's like if someone combined Fight Club, 1984 and The Matrix...For the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of the film, please go to the episode recap page.

This short story provides examples of:

  • Easy Sex Change: One of the staples of Varleyverse; people are actually considered a bit weird if they don't at least try out both genders at least once, and it only takes a few hours to complete. So Fingal's really, REALLY lucky he got his body back unchanged...
  • Hard Work Hardly Works: Zig-zagged. To pass the time, Fingal takes a computer programming course. Since time is accelerated for him, it takes only hours in the real world, but felt like six months of effort to him.
  • Klingon Scientists Get No Respect: "Only a retard would want to be a medico!" Medical science has advanced to the point where it's actually very easy to fix up people's bodies. End result: amazing surgeons are treated with the same regard as greasy auto-mechanics, and paid about as well.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: In the short story, they told Fingal that they were searching for his body all over the world, at various doppling institutes, for six months, when really they were searching for his body at the one institute for six hours. But had he ever realized that because he was in the computer he was experiencing time dilation, he would have Gone Mad From The Revelation and broken everything. (The 1984 elements were not present in the story, and the company was really just trying to be helpful.) This element was somewhat in the film with the "Cube Time/Fingal Time" display, but never really discussed.

This film provides examples of:

  • And You Were There: Not only is Fingal trapped in a Virtual Reality, but Apollonia and the Novicorp Chairman are in there as well, fighting to save/kill him respectively.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Apollonia sees a report describing the danger of a CompuTech staying in contact with a decaying Identity Cube. The tech is seen staring vacantly into the camera, having had their brain fried.
  • The Artifact: Some of the things that make no sense in the movie are leftovers from the short story that aren't as well explained or just dropped in. For example, Appolonia appearing as Venus is basically because in the simulation, she was only able to really appear to Fingal through bizarre phenomena, and after he accidentally reroutes a bunch of finances by screwing with things she gets through to him in the most direct way possible: divine intervention.
  • Captain Obvious: A lot of Apollonia's narration consists of stating stuff that's blatantly obvious, and recapping things that we've seen just moments ago. Even Mike and the Bots get annoyed by this pretty early on.
  • Chroma Key: Used for most of the special effects. Since the movie was not actually shot on film, and was instead videotaped, this results in lots of pixelation artifacts.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: Taken quite literally in one scene:
    Apollonia: Listen to me, Fingal. Your navel's very deep. I can't even see to the bottom of it! And if you fall in, I can't guarantee to pull you out!
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Novicorp's Fat Chairman, who is willing to allow Fingal to die for no apparent reason (and ignoring the fact that Fingal's death, attributed to Novicorp's product, would likely send the company into fiscal ruin). Of course, once Fingal starts screwing around with HX368, all bets are off.
  • Creepy Child: Marco. He's probably meant to be a horny young teenager, but the way he fondles a woman's unconscious body, insults the staff, and messes around just for fun, makes him seem more like a hellspawn.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Appolonia mentions that Fingle has an amazing talent with computers. Indeed, considering he managed to do all this with minimal training, one wonders what Fingle would have been able to do if The Chairman decided instead to hire Fingle as a programmer or a security expert (Or other more nefarious Novicorp-sponsored positions that are surely there) and then trained him to do things properly.
  • Cyberspace: The HX368, while not the internet, is seemingly connected to just about everything.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Apollonia chews Fingal out for wasting his imagination on a "one-handed exercise."
  • Deus ex Machina: The climax, wherein Fingal "interfaces" to defeat the Chairman... none of it is explained or built up at all, so it just comes off as
  • The Ditz:
    • Tooby the "Short-Bus Techie" as he's called, speaks with an odd cadence as if he has a mental problem, at least over the two-way.
    • The Medico who talks with Appolonia in a few scenes also comes across as rather ditzy.
  • Dystopia: Not as evident visually, since the physical/financial standard of living appears to be pretty good; what makes it a Dystopia is the suppression of human empathy, creativity, individualism and other social concerns.
  • Everything Is Online: This is how Fingal, trapped in the HX368, is able to muck around with virtually every single computer system in the world.
  • Fat Bastard: The Novicorp Chairman.
  • Follow the Leader: Amazingly, the film, made in 1984, is far ahead of its time. It would be another 10 plus years before the virtual reality craze began, including films like The Matrix. It was actually on the recommended films list for the Cyberpunk2020 RPG. That's what cyberpunk cinema looked like in the eighties.
  • Future Food Is Artificial: With a name like Flavo-Fibes, you just know they taste like plastic. Not to mention Reconst, a drink whose name just screams "I'm made of faecal matter!" note 
  • G-Rated Drug: "Marula Fruit" (called "maruba" in the film, for some reason), which apparently makes the animals used by the dopplers drunk. note 
  • Indecisive Parody: Accounts for most of the more bizarre moments, for example the Creepy Children who almost get mustard on someone's exposed brain.
  • Inherently Funny Words: The filmmakers seemed to think it was "anteaters." It's the only explanation for the constant anteater bashing. In the real world viewers thought it was constant use of the words "Fingal," and "dopple," which the MST3K crew gets a lot of mileage from in their treatment of the movie.
  • Misapplied Phlebotinum: In this future world, they apparently have the technology to remove someone's mind and transfer it to other bodies, and nobody is using it for immortality or life-saving procedures. Instead it is being used to place people's minds into animals for brief periods of time because they got a bad performance review at work.
  • The Mole: Appolonia's shift replacement Djamilla is apparently a Lexicorp spy, since she breaks the story of Fingal's misplacement to the public.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • Remember kids! You can't have Casablanca references without a Peter Lorre impersonator!
    • A Marlene Dietrich expy sings "Falling In Love Again" from The Blue Angel - in Rick's bar.
  • One Nation Under Copyright: Much is made of the powerful Novicorp and its rival Lexicorp; the only mention of actual governments is an offhanded reference to the British Parliament.
  • The Password Is Always Swordfish: Or, in this case, "IY479". It gets worse. Once the Chairman learns Fingal knows the password, he changes it to something extremely stupid:
    Fingal: Wait a minute! Why didn't I think of that before. Its so simple. Reverse the access code. He probably thought I'd never try something so simple.
  • Playful Hacker: Fingal just wants to watch old movies when he should be working.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: In a scene deleted from the MST version, The Chairman decides to immediately terminate Fingal and send his family a telegram and a bouquet, but he's talked into retrieving Fingal instead when Appolonia points out that letting someone die as a result of doppling would shake consumer confidence in NoviCorp's products so severely that it could bankrupt the company.
  • Running Gag: Anteaters are mocked with regularity.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Although the actual kiss comes sometime after the slap, the mood does go romantic immediately after the slap.
    Apollonia: Fingal... I want to do the right thing... I'm just not sure what that is...
  • Small Reference Pools: Fingal's Casablanca simulation comes complete with a Peter Lorre character who hangs around for almost the whole movie before he helpfully sacrifices himself to buy time for Fingal. In Casablanca, Lorre's character Ugarte is a One-Scene Wonder who shows up, gives Rick the Macguffin and then dies off screen. The film seems to muddle a lot of details of Casablanca with those of Maltese Falcon.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Felicia, a co-worker with whom Fingal is smitten, thinks of him as this. She's pretty much right about him too, especially given how he treats a VR Simulation of her later in the movie.
  • Stock Footage: The part of Daisy the Baboon will be played by the James Uys nature documentary Animals Are Beautiful People. The first twenty seconds or so of the opening credits to Casablanca appear frequently in the film.
  • Stop Trick: Used on occasion whenever something/one appears or vanishes from the VR simulation.
  • Unbuilt Trope: The film is not very well made but it's way ahead of its time regarding virtual reality stories. What appears cliche to anyone who's seen The Matrix was much fresher in 1984, cheesiness aside. May also constitute Early Installment Weirdness for its entire genre.* Video Inside, Film Outside: Thanks to the Daisy footage coming from an old documentary.
  • Viewer-Friendly Interface: Complete with what looks like a 72-point screen font.
  • We Will Use WikiWords In The Future: "Reconst," "flavo-fibes," "identicubes". "Medico," surprisingly, is an informal term for doctor or med student recognized by Microsoft Word and Firefox.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Appolonia gives Fingal a well-deserved thrashing when she catches him using his "powers" to have virtual sex with the image of a co-worker.
    Appolonia: If this one-handed exercise is all you can think of to do with your life, you're a very little man, and I'm very disappointed in you!
    • A far more egregious example occurs when Fingal starts screwing with the world's weather for shits and giggles.
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: When Apollonia appears as a Messenger from God, she speaks in a hybrid of anachronistic English and modern slang.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: Although several days (maybe even months, according to onscreen graphics) seem to pass within Fingal's simulation, only a few hours pass in the real world. This is, in fact, a plot point: they have only a few hours to find Final's body before the computer will no longer maintain his personality.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: "It was eerie, watching Fingal create his own reality simulation around him! Especially since he didn't even know he was doing it!"

Alternative Title(s):

Overdrawn At The Memory Bank