Writer & director Andrew Niccol is one of today’s most important modern sci-fi contributers. Having made a breakthrough in the film industry with 1997’s GATTACA which we wrote and directed, his status as a player in Hollywood wouldn’t be assured until the following year with the success of THE TRUMAN SHOW, which he wrote and produced. Both of these first films describe a future not far from our own in which technology becomes a way of life in which we dedicate and compensate for.
SIMONE is no different as it borrows themes Niccol has made mandatory in his own films. SIMONE is the story of Viktor Taransky (Al Pacino), a director who was once at the top of his game who now finds himself over the hill as he bends his will to that of the Diva actress (Winona Ryder) of his latest film and that of his producer Elaine Christian (Catherine Keener), who also happens to be his ex-wife and mother to his precocious daughter Lainey (Evan Rachel Wood), who is the only one that Viktor truly trusts. When his Diva quits on him Viktor must find a way to finish the film before the studio takes it away from him and he truly does become a relic of the past.
Out of nowhere an admirer (Elias Korteas) from his past shows up on his doorstep with the solution to his problems, a Sim-Program that can create an artificial lifeform using nothing but ones and zeros. Taransky thinks nothing on it at first until the admirer unexpectedly dies leaving him with the Sim-Program. We nothing left to loose Taransky uses the program to create an actress to finish his film. He creates within this actress all the traits that he believes makes a good actress. On the eve of the world premiere of his film, which will determine to course of his life not only with the studio that wants to retire him but also a family that he no longer thinks believes in him, a miracle occurs. The film is a success and his creation Simone is believed to be one of the greatest film actors of this generation. The fame and celebrity of Simone spirals out of control leaving Taransky with no other option but to continue the charade that Simone is real to the public.
The charade takes a deadly turn when Taransky discovers that the “Creation” becomes more of a celebrity then the “Creator” leaving him no other option but to discredit her or ultimately kill her off. As Taransky’s life spirals out of control he finds himself in jail for Simone’s disappearance and possible murder as well as other skeletons he’s kept hidden not only from the public but from his family as well.
SIMONE succeeds not only as a character piece but as satire on the Hollywood system because of the command performance of Al Pacino who hasn’t been this endearing to audiences since SCENT OF A WOMAN. Few films allow Pacino to shine as much as he does in this one.
SIMONE is a film that questions our perceptions of celebrity and fame and whether or not what we see on the screen is real or just a creation by someone pulling the strings. Like most of Niccol’s films, technology becomes not a device that helps mankind but sheds a light on how technology allows us to loose our humanity and replace it with something artificial. Like all of the main characters in his films only by loosing everything can we gain our humanity back or be destroyed by it. In the cold reality of the future we cannot allow ourselves to be made by others but we must break away and make ourselves. In this regards Taransky is just like Truman Burbank and Vincent Freeman (of THE TRUMAN SHOW and GATTACA, respectfully) whom are all characters trapped in the world around them needing to break free.