In the bright afternoon hours of New Year’s Day 2023, I squint through hungover eyes at my phone screen. My Twitter feed is blowing up about some movie I’ve never heard of before: Strange Days, a ‘90s Kathryn Bigelow sci-fi flick starring Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett, and Juliette Lewis.
I’m immediately intrigued—I love old Bigelow, especially her films that go deep into ‘80s and ‘90s countercultures like Near Dark and Point Break—but I’m officially invested once I read some of the discourse. If Gita Jackson is saying it’s “an absolutely perfect movie,” then I’m watching it ASAP, and that’s exactly what I do while still groggy and booze-soaked on New Year’s Day.
From the moment Strange Days begins, however, I can’t stop thinking about Cyberpunk 2077. The movie, set during New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in 1999, features all the kind of near-future vibes that CD Projekt Red’s 2020 title emulates. There’s some funny lingo that you can understand thanks to context clues, genre-bending music, punk-adjacent clothing and ideology (ACAB), and technology that allows you to push the limits of the human experience. It’s that last bit where Cyberpunk 2077 feels the most like it rips straight from Strange Days, but the influences are so clear throughout the movie that once it ends, I pick up the RPG again for the first time in weeks.
In Cyberpunk 2077, braindancing is a technology that lets you play back someone’s recorded lived experience while also feeling the physical sensations and emotions they felt and knowing the thoughts they had during it. This is, as others have pointed out, exactly like Strange Days’ “wiretripping” where a SQUID (Superconducting QUantum Interference Device) headpiece allows users to see and feel recorded memories.
Strange Days begins with a heart-pounding first-person POV armed robbery sequence that may feel overdone in 2022, but was groundbreaking in 1995. So groundbreaking, in fact, that Bigelow and her crew (which included then-husband James Cameron, who wrote the script) had to spend an entire year designing and building a custom 35mm camera that was light enough to be mounted on a portable rig. Because of this rig, there are several scenes in the film that feel eerily like a Cyberpunk 2077 sidequest or cutscene, and Cyberpunk’s braindance tutorial sequence pays homage to Strange Days’ unforgettable opening scene.
In both universes, braindancing and wiretripping are used as a method of escapism, but there are versions of these experiences that are considered too extreme. There are XBDs (extreme braindances) in Cyberpunk and blackjacks in Strange Days, both of which can be found in each world’s respective black markets. A mid-film blackjack provides a surprisingly graphic scene that feels as gross and excessive as something you’d see in Night City, and that fellow editor Carolyn Petit says left many viewers shaken back in 1995. This is the potential of our future, right? A peek into what happens when police states are enacted, class divides widen, and people turn to drugs and VR as a method of escapism.
Heavy content aside, Strange Days feels like the perfect accompaniment for playing through Cyberpunk 2077. Both have soundtracks that slap, both offer pointed criticisms on societal issues (the same issues, unfortunately, as not much has changed in nearly three decades), and both are filled with costumes that make me want to revamp my entire wardrobe. There’s something really special about watching a movie that somehow feels like it was developed in tandem with a video game that came out 25 years after its release.
Strange Days is available for streaming on HBO Max right now. Run, don’t walk.