Not Rated | 93 min | (USA) | 2012 | David Guy Levy
The premise of this film is simple; eight guests meet at the home of Mr. Lambrick in hopes of becoming the next recipient of the Lambrick Foundation’s philanthropy. They meet under the guise of a dinner party but what they don’t know is that there are no free handouts from this Foundation.
This film is broken down into two particularly interesting parts. Essentially these two parts consist of Iris’ (Brittany Snow) life outside of the game and her life inside the game. Outside of the game Iris is a young woman who moves home to care for her brother after her parents pass. Iris’ brother has leukemia and is in need of a costly bone marrow transplant. Prior to the game we see that Iris makes the conscious choice to become a caretaker by putting her life on hold to assist her brother. This same brother regularly makes comments about Iris’ sacrifice, “You can’t always be the hero, sometimes you gotta let go…Aren’t you sick of this, don’t you want a life?” Because of her inability to let go, Iris seeks out the money from Lambrick Foundation thus landing herself in the horrible game of would you rather.
Here is where it gets interesting. The game of would you rather forces Iris to make selfish choices. We find early in the game that many of the players try to be the hero by harming themselves to save others (sounds familiar). We come to learn through another character that the only way to win the game is to be the last man standing. In the deadliest game of would you rather, the only way out is to think solely about yourself. It’s no longer about your cause, or Iris’s brother, it is about survival. Lambrick boasts that the game is about decision making, values, ethics, and being rational under duress. I argue that it is more about Iris learning how to balance the care of herself with her need to care for others. It is an unbearable burden to live with and care for a chronically ill loved one. But the lesson here is that no one can make their life solely about someone else.
As Iris learns to make difficult choices, the audience is equally forced to choose along with the characters.[i] The most stunning thing about this movie is the way that it is shot. Once inside the house, the viewer becomes part of the game. We are privy to the side conversations and gossip as we meet the other guests one by one. We seem to sit at the head of the dinner table and for the rest of the movie we share visual images that support this perception. This point of view is exponentially intensified each time that a participant is given a choice of what they would rather. It is an unconscious reaction to think about what we would do in each circumstance. If you were a vegetarian, would you throw away “a lifetime of discipline and commitment to a cause” by eating meat for $10,000? The scenarios get tougher, and the viewer continues to choose.
As each participant chooses, the viewer is confronted with the dilemma of whether to follow through as a participant or an audience member. The audience has one foot in both camps. We watch the film from the comfort of our homes knowing we are safe, yet the film places us into the intense decision making dinner party. Like Iris had her world outside of the game as her brother’s keeper and her world inside the game as a survivalist; the audience must decide whether to think like an audience member or a player. When thinking like a player it becomes easier to decide whether to electrocute yourself or someone else. When thinking like an audience member, we must weigh our values systems since we don’t have to survive.
The film is paced in short increments that force the members to grapple with their values. To do so, the dinner party is broken up into four tiers. The first is about choosing between yourself and others. The second is about values and bias as we decide who of the others should be injured over the others. The third tier forces members to tackle the known vs unknown, and the final game is about chance and making the decision as to what version of you will emerge after this exercise.
Would You Rather coaxes the audience into peeling back the layers of personal bias to decide whose life is most worthy to us? Is it the recovering alcoholic, the victim of domestic abuse, the hot guy with the gambling problem, or the veteran? To further exacerbate the choices the director cleverly interjects matters of age, race, class, and perceived worthiness into the mix. Now the film reflects back our personal biases through the film’s characters and our choices.
The process of making firm choices and accepting the consequences is a life lesson. Would You Rather reveals that in life there are always choices. Some of these choices are equally unappealing but there are options nonetheless. The film pushes us to consider the circumstances surrounding the choices, weighing known versus unknown, while also considering chance. It will be interesting to see what version of you will emerge after watching this film. Would you maim or kill innocent people for money? Could you hold fast to your value system in a life or death scenario? Will you feel bad when you don’t? Would You Rather’s skillful mastery of camera angles and forced viewer participation ensure that you will be pressured into making some difficult choices during these 93 minutes.
[i] In fact Lambrick seems to speak to the viewers as much as the dinner party members when he assures that participation is no longer voluntary. From here on out, the audience subconsciously will choose along the way.