“A straightforward look at a man forced to assume responsibility for a lifetime of selfish actions.”
At the screening of The Operator I attended, two of the film’s reels were accidentally shown out of sequence, resulting in an unintentional Memento-like effect. While the two thrillers do share certain qualities, The Operator doesn’t utilize tricky cinematic devices, offering instead a straightforward look at a man forced to assume responsibility for a lifetime of selfish actions.
To the casual observer, Gary Wheelan (Michael Laurence), a successful Dallas lawyer, lives a model life. He drives a BMW, lives in a McMansion, and is married to his high school sweetheart. In actuality, he’s an arrogant miscreant who cares more about image, money and his own pleasure than anything else, including his wife. He sleeps with a different woman every night (resulting, early on, in a nude cross-town run to escape an angry husband’s shotgun), is a chronic gambler, and treats everyone around him with contempt. Gary meets his match when he viciously insults a telephone operator (Jacqueline Kim) after receiving a wrong number from directory assistance. Almost instantly, he finds his calls are being monitored, his bank accounts drained, and his life thrown into chaos by this mysterious woman, whose desire is “to destroy him, to set him free.”
This mystical, pseudo-Buddha vibe permeates The Operator, with its themes of cosmic retribution and living life free of possessions. At times, it veers dangerously close to corniness; even Gary’s bookie (Stephen Tobolowsky) spouts Eastern philosophy (while drinking organic vegetable juice, no less). However, writer director Jon Dichter manages to sustain momentum as he follows Gary’s downward spiral.
Even so, it’s hard not to wonder why Gary doesn’t contact the authorities – or at least the phone company – throughout his ordeal. There’s a peculiar phenomenon in movies that often keeps protagonists from doing the logical thing in a given situation. In some films, it’s necessary; without sending someone into the dark without a flashlight, horror films couldn’t scare us. But The Operator isn’t a horror film. It’s a high-concept thriller that presents an intelligent viewpoint on the balance between materialism and morality. Consequently, Gary’s actions are somewhat questionable. Still, The Operator offers a sinister look at an all-too-real horror: somewhere, huge amounts of information have been compiled on each and every one of us. And somebody has access to it. It’s enough to make you think twice the next time you make a cell phone call or send your credit card information zipping across the unknown expanses of the internet.