Strange Days: Desperate and Desolate Screenwriting

By Matthew Pizana · January 10, 2015

The future portrayed in science fiction cinema is rarely an inviting scenario. Mostly, it is seen as a dystopian landscape of massive unemployment, dead dreams and militant police forces ready to crack heads for the power elite. Los Angeles in 1999 as seen through the gaze of Strange Days is not much different; the streets are chaos where not even Santa Claus is safe from the crime. Lenny Nero offers a way out of the dread, at least for a little while. When someone films a snuff film on one of his virtual reality recorders, Lenny has to uncover the creator and find out if the film is even real. 

December 1999 and the future is here.  Los Angeles is a war zone with violence and crime running amok on the streets.  Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) is a former cop turned dealer of all things SQUID, a device that lets the viewer live out any type of fantasy the user might like. Lenny has dinner with Mace (Angela Bassett) and Max (Tom Sizemore). While they eat, a girl named Iris who has been terrorized by police officers in the subway, drops a disc in Lenny’s car for him to see. Before Lenny can see it, his car is towed. Later in the evening, Lenny receives an anonymous disc that shows the rape and murder of Iris. Knowing his ex was friends with Iris, he goes to see Faith (Juliette Lewis), but her new boyfriend, music mogul Philo Grant (Michael Wincott), will not let him talk to her. Lenny searches for answers to what happened which leads to him being tailed by the same two cops that attacked Iris on the train.  Eventually, Lenny realizes they are after him because Iris witnessed the assassination of a popular rapper with SQUID and the officers want the disc back. Lenny and Max end up at a New Year’s Eve party thrown by Philo where they find that Philo has also been murdered and Lenny realizes that Max is the real killer. Max's plan is to kill Faith and frame Lenny for Philo’s murder but before he can, Faith attacks Max long enough for Lenny to throw Max off the balcony. Lenny meets up with Mace, who has been beaten by the two cops but survives when the commissioner saves her. They share a kiss to ring in the new century.

While there are no flying cars or talking robots in the film, Strange Days paints a more accurate picture (of how the future actually panned out) than other sci-fi contemporaries. Taking part in a crime from the comfort of your own couch is only a call to Lenny away in the world of Strange Days. In the real world, all you need is Grand Theft Auto to commit any crime you ever dreamed. The SQUID device can be used just like playing a video game on your Google Glasses or any first person shooter game on the Xbox. People lose themselves in the virtual world just as much now as any of the people living in Strange Days.   


Desperation motivates everyone in the world of Strange Days. Lenny is desperate to have his ex back even if he knows it is never going to be. Mace is desperate for Lenny, but she can’t justify in her head how much time he spends in his alternate reality and conning other people in. Max is desperate to get out from under the blanket of hell of his own creation, ready to sell out even his friend Lenny as long as it helps himself. 

Strange Days is the fifth film directed by Academy Award winner Kathryn Bigelow. James Cameron co-wrote and edited some of the film though he was not credited due to not being part of the editors union. The movie won two Saturn awards for Science Fiction and was nominated for three more.    

Trailer Credit: 20th Century Fox