May 20th, 2011

eyes black and white

Hacking, the Movie

The last dream of my night was memorable. At least, that was what I thought when I was having it: I was so eager to tell it that I dreamed of telling it to my better half before I actually woke up and told it to my better half.

I was a hacker in a multinational corporation, and pushing forward the project for making a movie about hackers, titled «Hacking» — because it's the process that matters. I had been sending the message accross the company on this project to celebrate the hacker spirit, and getting back lots of answers. And so the shooting had begun.

In the first speaking scene of the movie, after an opening scene and an animation/montage under introductory music, the Hacker, main protagonist, comes into his shared office room, reading from a printout or from his palmtop: «Hey Georgie, here's a good one: «So the apprentice comes to the Master, and says «Master, I've found Illumination!», and the Master replies…»» Then realizing his friend George, for whom he was reading the joke, is not here, he abruptly stops narrating, and asks «Where's Georgie?». The Intern, who was in the room, and is eager to hear the end of the joke, inquires «What's does the Master reply?» The Hacker, not paying attention, leaves the room and finds George in the corridor showing off some cool gadget he'd been hacking on.

As it appears later in the movie, this joke, and other ones, are read from a mailing-list discussing a project for a movie about hacking. Recursion being big amongst hackers, the movie project is referred to at times in the movie. The joke itself becomes a recurring theme of the movie, with the Intern/Apprentice trying to extract from the Hacker/Master the end of the joke, but never succeeding at getting his attention long enough.

At some point, the apprentice, while discussing an issue with their current project, proposes: «I know what we'll do, we'll…» and gets a smack on the head, because the master already knows the silly beginner's mistake the apprentice is going to propose, or because «this is not a «I know what we'll do» problem». As the movie progresses, the apprentice makes other contributions, that the master easily rebukes after a bit of thought, then with more thought, then doesn't rebuke, then rebukes out of lack of thought.

By the end of the movie, the apprentice saved the project by an essential contribution, had a fall out with his master, and is his own, independent, hacker. He understands that it doesn't matter what the master says at the end of the joke. Either the apprentice did, or didn't, find illumination; that's fact. Either the master rebukes him (probably) or not, that's already commentary. And so when this newly graduated hacker is presented with an apprentice of his own, amazed to be working in a renowned company, as a new master, the hacker starts: «Here's a good one: «So the apprentice comes to the Master, and says «Master, I've found Illumination!», and the Master replies…»» But the closing music interrupts his telling the end of the joke.

Beyond the jokes and the story of achievement against human and natural odds, the movie had two, dual, overarching themes: design and emerging order. And curiosity. I'll come in again. Design and emerging order, curiosity and creation, and the fact that hacking is about people. Peculiar people. Who are awkward and don't know that much really. But who can and do learn. As an illustration, the initial intro animation shows chaos vanquished by design; and the ending animation shows individual design as part of a higher, undesigned, and undesignable order.

How many TVTropes in that didactic story? You tell me. At least it's not about Cops, Soldiers, or any kind of Goons with Guns. We celebrate creation, not destruction. I'm collecting ideas for the rest of the script...