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Film / Computer Chess

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Computer Chess is Andrew Bujalski's experimental Deliberately Monochrome Mockumentary film set in 1983 about programmers competing in a chess tournament to see who has the best software.

Tropes in this film:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Peter and Shelly discover that his software program won't play well unless it's playing a human. We find out Bishton has the SAR software learning as it goes - it's implied the computer may have achieved sentience.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Papageorge's mother tells the drug dealer's crony about Luke 15:8 to Luke 15:10 ("The Lost Coin") as Papageorge hunts for his lost drug money.
  • Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: Full frontal female nudity literally in the last few seconds of the film.
  • Chess Motifs: Subtle ones, such as Papageorge's loop and Shelley's Tetris Effect.
  • Crazy People Play Chess: Played with. Only the computers are playing chess, but one is kind of eccentric. The grandmaster/host does have some quirks, though.
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  • Do Androids Dream?: Some not-so-subtle references to 2001: A Space Odyssey near the end, though it's from an Unreliable Narrator.
  • Exty Years from Now: Takes place in 1983, released in 2013.
  • Foreshadowing: In the press conference, Henderson notes the disastrous endgame played by one computer program, stating it's caught in an endless loop for a stalemate. Michael Papageorge finds himself in one searching for his money stash to pay for drugs.
  • Gainax Ending: The ending comes completely out of left field, and seems to be the Rule of Symbolism of Peter embracing computers as the only object to which he's sexually attracted.
  • Government Conspiracy: The drug dealer assumes that the Pentagon is using the computer programs for covert ops. Beuschler confirms this to Peter, telling him why Bishton was late.
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  • "Groundhog Day" Loop: Papageorge finds himself in one when searching for the money to pay for his drugs; it's implied that Michael to this day still is hooked and looking for his drug money. The sound sync is deliberately misaligned.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Using computer to find dates?! Hah!
  • It Can Think: Shelley reveals that TSAR refuses to play well against other computers and seems to only want to play against real humans.
  • Jerkass: Michael Papageorge spends most of the film being a complete ass to everyone, including and especially Pat. He's also a bit of a Cloud Cuckoo Lander whom the other contestants start making fun of late in the film.
  • Mind Screw: The Robo Sexual ending.
  • Mushroom Samba / Splash of Color: During Papageorge's aforementioned time loop, the only time the film is in color.
  • Nerds Are Virgins: Implied, played straight with Peter. Until the Robo Sexual ending.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Peter leaves the SAR computer exposed to the rain. It gets him kicked off the team.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    Mike: (to cameraman) What's going on over there. SAR hasn't make a single move.
    Pat: Hey, don't talk to him, he's working.
    Mike: (nonchalantly) Pat, go fuck yourself!
    (Mike ignores Pat as Pat wears a thoroughly shocked expression.)
  • Red Herring Twist: It's implied that once Peter and Shelly discover that the TSAR wants to play against humans instead of other computers, that it's the machine that will play against Pat. The movie instead goes for a Mind Screw ending.
  • Robo Sexual: The Mind Screw ending reveals the prostitute is an android.
  • Running Gag:
    • Papageorge nomadically looks for a room to sleep with after the hotel screws up his reservation.
    • Cats seem to be infesting the hotel.
  • Shout-Out: The NooG team claims they ran an algorithm that would predict the room that the wandering Papageorge would end up in: Room 217. This might have been a deliberate reference in-universe, but Papageorge does share some characteristics as Jack Torrance (inability to sleep, needing an illicit substance to function, mildly racist, prone to Precision F Strikes and so on.) Bishton whispers something to Peter, which may be him pointing out the reference to him.
  • Shown Their Work: The film was shot on Sony AVC 3260 cameras which were around in 1980. One character warns the cameraman that if he shoots the sun, he'll ruin the tubes in the camera, which happens in the last shot of the film.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Shelley is the only female programmer at the conference. Pat makes a big deal out of her, and rightly so, since female engineers are rare even now - in 1983 they were as scarce as unicorns.
  • The Stoner: Papageorge, who can't seem to function without his drug fix, which may explain some of his Jerkassity. The last we see of Papageorge is him fruitlessly looking for his drug money at his Mom's place.
  • Tetris Effect: Shelley says she has started seeing people as chess pieces.
  • Three-Way Sex: Poor Peter is hit on by a free love middle-aged couple. They don't succeed.
  • Trippy Finale Syndrome: There is no explanation for the Robo Sexual ending. It's not even hinted on in the least, except maybe Bishton seeing a fetus on his computer monitor.


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