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Film / Anon (2018)
aka: Anon

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"It's not that I have something to hide, it's that I don't have anything I want you to see."

Anon is an American 2018 neo-noir crime drama film set in a dystopian future where everyone by law has their memories stored online. Directed by Andrew Niccol, it stars Clive Owen as Detective 1st Class Sal Frieland and Amanda Seyfried as The Girl, an anonymous hacker being investigated by the former.

It was released worldwide on Mar 4, 2018 via Netflix.

Tropes in this work:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Technology is relatively unchanged, aside from the introduction of the implants. Dips into Alternate History given how cemented the technology is into society.
  • Advert-Overloaded Future: Large augmented reality advertisements are displayed all over the major skyscrapers, shops have AR models outside their stores, and window shopping is a whole lot more literal when the technology can simulate you wearing whatever is in the window.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: Minds Eye is an implant that records everything that they see and hear, saving it to the Cloud. By law, everyone has one to boot. It also augments reality for interface and playback purposes, which is abused to induce hallucinations by elite-level hackers.
  • Artistic License – Engineering: The violent static when victims' points of view are shifted wouldn't happen in any conceivable computing scenario. At most, there might be one frame of distortion (at a more human-like frame rate, effectively undetectable) before immediately shifting to the killer's POV. In the event of lag, the victim might see a damaged feed not unlike the film's, but it would be the killer's damaged feed, not their own.
  • Ascetic Aesthetic: The movie's urban environments have a very grey, sterile feeling to them, with everything depicted right down to the smallest object as being in near-perfect order and synchronicity. Of course, this is to subtly make the film's dystopian, no-privacy-allowed society even creepier.
  • As You Know: Sal's partner mutters to him how Cyrus has been foisted on them by the Commissioner, then walks up and introduces him to Sal, even though Sal should know who Cyrus is from the Ether. Still, it's possible a more formal workplace like a government bureau would keep up a façade of politeness even if it's become irrelevant.
  • Augmented Reality: This is a feature of the implant and is also its Achilles heel, capable of completely overriding a person's vision to technologically induce hallucinations.
  • Big Brother Is Watching You: Bureau Commissioner Kenik puts greater priority on catching these invisible hackers than solving the murders, regarding the victims as deserving their fate because they tried to erase part of their lives from scrutiny. He talks of extending the system of total surveillance to cover subcrimes as well, and Freeze-Frame Bonus on his Record shows he's already been cited for abusing his power, but was allowed to maintain his position.
  • Camera Spoofing
    • The killer is able to do this in real time, splicing the Murderer P.O.V. onto the victim's Minds Eye so there's no record of the killer's face. When being chased by Sal an image of a subway train is spliced onto Sal's vision when there's actually an empty platform, to try and make him step onto it and get run over by the real train which arrives moments later.
    • This is what the Girl does for her clients, erasing the recorded memory and splicing an innocuous memory in its place. It's not a simple matter as anyone else the client was interacting with has to have their memories altered as well, preferably in a way that they won't notice.
    • Sal gets placed under house arrest, with a policeman outside watching what he's doing via Sal's Minds Eye. Sal pretends to go to sleep, then with his eyes still closed feels his way out of the building until he's near where the policeman is, then attacks him.
    • In the climatic scene, Sal is under house arrest again, so the Girl just slice-and-loops his vision so she can sneak into his apartment for when the killer tries to murder Sal.
  • Caught on Tape: Crime theoretically shouldn't exist because everyone is constantly recording their own actions - Sal's job at the beginning of the film is to review footage from suspected criminals to determine their guilt. But hackers are able to get around this by editing a criminal's memories to erase the crime (The Girl even points out a drug dealer who doesn't open his eyes while selling his illicit wares, preventing there from being any incriminating evidence in the first place).
  • Cyberpunk: The world has become a drab dystopian place where everyone is under constant surveilance but chooses not to care except for a handful of hackers who buck the system by erasing themselves as well as helping other people cover up their indiscretions. The police are apathetic at best and maliciously incompetent at worst.
  • Cool Car: As part of the noir look there are a lot of 1950's-era cars, but the Augmented Reality shows these are actually replicas powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
  • Defective Detective: Sal has substance abuse problems after the death of his son, and has no issue with snorting cocaine with the Girl as part of the sting operation. This doesn't help when he's trying to convince his colleagues he's not losing it when the killer is sending him hallucinations.
  • Double-Meaning Title: "Anon" refers to both the mysterious, nameless Girl being pursued by the main character, as well as the broader concept of anonymity in an interconnected society and hacker groups by that name.
  • Drop Dead Gorgeous: A half-naked lesbian couple is shown being murdered from the point of view of their killer, and then their topless corpses are left sprawled on a bed as Sal examines the crime scene.
  • Epigraph: The film opens with lines from a 19th century poem expressing how the poet wants to be invisible even to God.
  • Everything Is Online: And how — in this world, hackers are gods because by law, everyone has the device connected to their mind's eye. It seems that pretty much every piece of machinery on Earth is connected to the Ether as well.
  • Eye Remember: Minds Eye records anything witnessed by the user, and these memories can be played back to find a killer. In this case the killer gets round this by hacking the victim's eyes so they can only see what the killer sees.
  • Exact Words: Sal's girlfriend demands to see what he was looking at in his Minds Eye while they were having sex. Sal replies, "I can't" so she walks out on him. Turns out he literally can't, as the image has been deleted by an algorithm the Girl has invented, which deletes the memory if anyone tries to look back at it.
  • Fan of the Past: The Girl furnishes her apartment with antiques, probably because it's harder to hide something made in the present day.
  • Fan Disservice: A lesbian couple are shown making out, with one topless, but the sexiness immediately turns into horror as they are then both shot dead by an unseen killer.
  • Fanservice Extra: Sal's girlfriend is shown having sex with him, but then cuts off the relationship because he's watching the recording of the Girl during sex, and we don't see her again. Sal later has sex with a High-Class Call Girl as part of the sting to catch the Girl.
  • Fantastic Noir: Of the Cyberpunk variety. The world is a place with a corrupt police force, the entire world under surveillance with their own eyes, privacy extinct, and everyone seemingly living drab meaningless lives with the protagonist no exception. Furthermore, there's a serial killer on the loose that the government doesn't care about the murders of due to them being more interested in how they're spoofing the system.
  • Film Noir: Smoking protagonists, pea coats, a bleak world, murder, the detective being framed, steamy affairs, and of course the obligatory plot twist... Anon is a clear-cut Neo-Noir film.
  • Forced to Watch: Sal took his eyes off his infant son for a moment, during which he walked out onto the street and got hit by a car. The killer deletes Sal's happy memories of his son and forces him to watch his son's death over and over.
  • Frame-Up: We learn late in the film that The Girl didn't commit any of the murders, and is being framed by a jealous stalker who wants to help her disappear by destroying the human memory of her. This same individual frames Sal in the murder of his neighbor.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Throughout the film, there are actual freeze-frame backstories of several characters, even a kid in the alley that Sal interacts with briefly.
  • He's Dead, Jim: After a policeman is shot, Sal just glances at him and continues his pursuit of the killer, as his Minds Eye has told him the policeman is dead.
  • Holographic Terminal: The other future tech showcased in the film, it's only utilized in the bureau's conference room. Other "holography" is actually augmented reality from the implants.
  • Hypocrite: The Commissioner talks about Mind's Eye allowing transparency but it's strictly one-way, given that the authorities can decide what is Classified Information but the public can't.
  • I Know What You Fear: Sal mentions not liking dogs. Being attacked by a savage dog is one of the hallucinations sent by the hacker in revenge for his interference. He also sees a criminal attacking him in an alley, a Swarm of Rats filling his apartment and a hallway in flames.
  • Jitter Cam: Totally averted. Nearly all the footage recorded from the point of view of the characters is perfectly level, perfectly in focus, and totally smooth. Even from the point of view of characters who are running, climbing stairs, and firing weapons.
  • Let Off by the Detective: In one of Sal's cases shown early in the film, he's tasked with determining if a maid stole an expensive bracelet from a hotel room. In reviewing the maid's recording of the event, he finds that she did take the jewelry, and hock it to pay her rent. But Sal covers up the maid's crime... because of personal dislike for the client who accused the maid of theft. This example of the trope speaks less of the maid's sympathetic character, or Sal's desire to "do good" as a detective, than it does of the overall corruptness of the justice system and Sal's total disregard for rules. And his decision to let the Girl go without arresting her.
    Client: I know where I left it. You can see in my record. I left it in the hotel bathroom. Show me the maid.
    Sal: Can't help you.
    Client: Well someone else came in. It didn't just walk out on its own.
    Sal: Wish I could.
    Client: We're leaving.
    Sal's Coworker: You didn't show her what happened a minute earlier. Or what happened four hours later when she [the maid] sold the bracelet to pay rent.
    Sal: There was just something about that woman that annoyed the f*ck out of me.
  • Let the Past Burn: The Girl is shown in flashback burning her written records after her digital record is erased. She says tracking down the analogue records is actually harder.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: The lesbian couple who are murdered both have long hair and a very feminine presentation. Anon, who slept with them, has only a slightly less feminine look (but she's bisexual, judging by most of her lovers being men).
  • Literal Metaphor: Sal tries to convince his partner that a traffic accident was caused by the killer hacking his vision. When told he's seeing things, Sal gets annoyed because that's literally what's going on.
  • Magical Security Cam: Everyone in the world is essentially a security camera, with implants that record everything they see. But the footage taken from those human points of view is perfectly focused, cinematically composed, and never distracted, shaky, or impaired.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: The killer hacks into Sal's eyes and makes him drive into oncoming traffic, (almost) step into an empty elevator shaft, fall down a flight of stairs and get hit by an oncoming subway train.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Amanda Seyfried as The Girl appears naked from the side multiple times, and also has a sex scene with Sal.
  • No Name Given: "The Girl" never tells Sal her real name, going by "Anon" online.
  • Not Distracted by the Sexy: After hacking the Girl's Minds Eye, the police try to work out where she lives from her apartment but can't pick up any clues. The one clue is seen reflected in the full length mirror she looks in before she goes to bed. Sal later points out that she's rather distracting and that's why the others missed it, but Sal doesn't and is able to work out the location.
  • Ominous Visual Glitch: Played with — seems to happen during most hacks such as memories being deleted or their POV being shifted, but it never happens when the hacker wants their victim to hallucinate.
  • Omniscient Database: Justified, as everyone can be lawfully monitored at any given time by the authorities. Only by closing one's eyes (or hacking) can they sneak around at all, as Sal did late in the film.
  • Online Alias: While presumably the world doesn't have such things, the hackers themselves do...with The Girl going by simply Anon.
  • P.O.V. Cam: In-Universe with Minds Eye.
  • Recruiting the Criminal: Lester Goodman is an ex-hacker consultant who traded a life sentence for a 40 year exclusive consultancy with the Bureau. Later, it is discussed that the Bureau will attempt to hire anons after Sal's investigation is derailed.
  • Revolvers Are Just Better: The Girl uses a (fictional) Ryazan 914 .357 magnum revolver, as part of her preference for 'analogue' things.
  • Right Under Their Noses: Cyrus Frears, a tech specialist assigned to the investigation, turns out to be the killer. When the Commissioner roasts them about this, it's pointed out that the Commissioner personally recommended Cyrus. Turns out he never did—the killer just faked the recommendation and no-one bothered to check it with the Commissioner's office as they're used to accepting everyone at face value.
  • Second-Person Attack: When Sal's implant is hacked, he's subjected to several hallucinatory attacks. The hacks include a man chasing him down an alley and beating him savagely, and a guard dog attacking him. Viewers see the same hacked footage Sal sees.
  • Sex Starts, Story Stops: All of the sex scenes have little to no buildup. Sal is simply seen while having sex with a woman in the first case. The second is justified as she's a sex worker he hires. In the third, he and The Girl briefly flirt before they're shown having sex.
  • Sinister Surveillance: It's the basis of the film's dystopian society. Everyone is a camera, even the unconnected hackers.
  • Take Me Instead: One member of the lesbian couple begs the killer to shoot her instead, only to see her lover shot before herself.
  • Techno Dystopia: Privacy is dead, everyone is monitored constantly, and everyone knows everything about people they just met. The dull expressions on citizens' faces are due to them being smartphone zombies dialed up to eleven.
  • Terminally Dependent Society:
    • Just the sheer difficulty Sal had during the investigation made it clear that society has become over-reliant on the device in more ways than just criminal investigation. One of Sal's superiors even justifies this by throwing Sal under the bus for the system and his own corporate superiors.
    • One example is when Sal realises his memory of the Girl has been erased, no-one suggests getting a facial composite done. It's likely the skill to make one doesn't even exist in the police department any more.
  • There Is No Kill Like Over Kill: Despite getting the "end of file" message after shooting Cyrus dead, Sal shoots him several more times just to be certain. Justified, given faking the message would be child's play in comparison to some of the hacked hallucinations Sal was subjected to.
  • Third Act Stupidity: After spending months undercover trying to and succeeding in tracking down The Girl, Sal is treated to a hallucination of the building on fire and tries to shoot the fire with his sidearm. This allows the true villain to frame him and drives the last 20 minutes of the plot.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: At various points in the film, Sal's Augmented Reality implant is hacked to change his perception of the world in real time, causing him to hallucinate various things, such as a different flight of stairs in front of him, or the hallway outside his apartment being on fire. Because we're frequently seeing these events through his eyes, the viewer shares in his confusion.
  • Transferable Memory: People routinely swap memory files. When Sal's memories of his dead son are erased, he calls his ex-wife and convinces her to send over her own memories. Turns out they've been erased as well.
  • Trickster Girlfriend: Sal is given the task to catch Anon/"The Girl", and there is definite sexual tension between them (including them actually having sex at one point).
  • Universal Translator: A policeman questions a maid in English and she responds in her own language, with Minds Eye providing simultaneous translation for both parties.
  • Unperson: The Girl hasn't even created a false identity for herself, which would make it easier to evade detection (anyone looking at her sees an UNKNOWN: ERROR message instead of the usual social media data). She prefers to be totally anonymous rather than pretend to be someone she's not. The killer became obsessed with her after helping erase her digital existence, and decided to kill off everyone she was intimate with so she wouldn't exist even in someone's memory.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight:
    • A subway car full of people don't react to Sal waving a gun at them. Turns out the subway car isn't there and the hacker is trying to lure Sal into falling onto the track so he'll be run over by an oncoming train—it gives him a glancing blow instead.
    • Sal appears not to notice a trio of zombies charging up behind him, before being Reduced to Dust. Turns out we're looking through the eyes of a boy playing an Augmented Reality game.
  • Whodunnit: Lampshaded by Sal with the first victim. "We actually got ourselves a Whodunnit."
  • Your Eyes Can Deceive You: Literally when the killer can hack your own eyes. In the final confrontation, Sal can only shoot when the killer looks in his direction (which of course is when the killer is just about to fire).

Alternative Title(s): Anon