The Crank Aesthetic

Originally published November 26, 2014
Chev Chelios walks into a bar and instantly dies.
Crank is a very enjoyable movie. In addition, it is a good movie, which is a higher standard. It's good because it creates and exemplifies a really cool aesthetic.

The premise is that badass former assassin Chev Chelios gets poisoned with a magic Chinese substance that will kill him by inhibiting his adrenaline, so he has to constantly do exciting and badass things to keep himself alive. So far so awesome. Just the things that happen to him on his romp through Los Angeles would have killed anyone in the real world, but Chev refuses to die before he can avenge his own death.

Crank is full of video game references. This isn't pandering to the audience; it's important to the aesthetic that Chev be a video game protagonist. He's a character whose health and rage meters are the same bar that constantly depletes and can only be refilled by fighting. One example is he cuts the hand off of one opponent, and instead of reeling in pain the opponent keeps fighting. Another is he bluffs his way out of being shot just before the climax with a finger-gun he doesn't know is actually going to work. He also has sex in public to get a powerup. Twice. These things are too ridiculous for the movies. They only happen in video games.

I will watch any number of movies about a character who is cursed to die and goes on a rampage to break the curse.

Anyone who's a distance runner, or who's gone insane periods of time without sleep, or who's been in a fight that lasted longer than their stamina, has felt a second wind. I love second winds. They feel so heroic and manly. I love third and fourth winds too. Crank has more winds than I can count.

If I had to describe the aesthetic, which I rather wish I didn't and am upset at you for insisting I do, it would be the aesthetic of angrily growling "Not yet..." regarding a curse that must cause one's demise, forcing oneself to stay alive through sheer force of will, and succeeding, ideally breaking the curse and proving one's immortality by fire. You need to be badass enough to keep your heart beating even if you get killed five or six times.

Mook: The best thing for you to do is to find some nice, dark, quiet place and... just die.
Chev: *contemptful smirk* Just die? What, do you think I've got "cunt" written on my forehead?
The best way to understand this sort of thing is with extensional definitions. Crank is both the primordial and the ultimate example, but it's not the only one.

I see about 50% of the aesthetic in Crypt of the NecroDancer, an enjoyable and also good combination of roguelike and rhythm game. The "plot" is that the protagonist, Cadence, falls a long way into a hole. Instead of letting her die from the impact, a necromancer pulls her heart out and forces it to beat to the music. The Crank aesthetic is implemented directly in the gameplay. The player can die instantly upon making a single mistake, and mistakes are easy to make. The player doesn't (usually) die just on missing a beat, but missing a beat does incur a penalty. The premise recalls the inferior Crank sequel, wherein Chevy's heart is removed and replaced with an artificial one that he has to keep recharging.

It seems important that Chelios and Cadence both spend a lot of their time inflicting themselves on the world while suffering their curse and trying to remove it. Chelios kills a lot of people. Cadence kills a lot of monsters.

I see maybe 11% of the aesthetic in Rhythm Doctor, a game about keeping patients' heart beating. Beat beat beat beat beat beat beat.

I see maybe 7% of it in Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, in which the protagonist spends the majority of the game literally running from his own demise in the form of a deity out to fix the damage he's done to the timestream. By killing him. This plotline inspired the final act of a stick figure comic I made long ago.

I hear at most 6% in Help I'm Alive by Metric. I don't like the song, but I do listen to it sometimes just to keep my heart beatbeatbeatbeatbeatbeatbeating like a hammer.

I hope I've made it obvious that this aesthetic is real. But it seems that Crank is the only real instance. Crank pulsates with it. Everything about it is it. If you know of any other equally good instantiation, let me know.

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