Review: The Tender Cut

When was the last time you watched Un Chien Andalou? When was the last time you entered the buildings and streets of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí to let your mind wander? Having just revisited it for the first time in four years, I realized I had had no inspiration, no catalyst, to further examine the surrealist “masterpiece,” and yet I sat in front of the computer eager to revisit a short film famous for its eyeball cuts and piano-dragging priests.

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Why did I return to the film to begin with? As a digital gamer, I read this article, which describes The Tender Cut, a freely-available, “first person interactive installation/exploration adventure game.” I’m a sucker for free games, particularly if they look to be aligned with the abstract, the absurd, or the hypnogogic. And true, Un Chien Andalou does not have a strong story per se, but the story of its transference into a game was strong enough pull to have me download and play through it.

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Once you load The Tender Cut, you’re given a simple menu. The first item, “Watch,” is a unique verb to be given, but the game’s creators, Ilya Kononenko and Yuliya Kozhemyako, have done their best to convey their interpretation of the film. In this case “viewing” is “playing.” “Watching” will result in the interactions you create within the game’s parameters. What are you looking out for?

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In many ways, the first person experience of being the phantasmagoria-induced protagonist of The Tender Cut is all about finding the surreal within the established context of complexities. What I mean to say is: you’re playing a game of a film that is based on associations and disassociations, desires and fears, relationships, the unconscious. Drunk on life, what you get from your experience depends on what you pay attention to.

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In this way, The Tender Cut becomes a game of puzzles and enchantments. I would argue The Tender Cut is the first translation of its kind, which lets its creators off the hook. The game does only take place in the film’s apartment. There are only a handful of “interactions” that can be performed to produce more “watchable” material. It’s a short interactive experience. In many ways, we have two individuals who know surrealism and who know gaming and they wanted to give us a little gift, a walk through the layers of humanity proposed by Buñuel and Dalí so that we may open ourselves. Think differently. Respect new boundaries blended into our expectations as gamers.

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Whether smoking a cigarette, finding a key, spinning dials on a television, or going outside to watch the moon transform into a memory of a sliced eyeball, there are moments within The Tender Cut I found empowered my understanding of the short film. I am no scholar, neither in surrealist art nor contemporary games, but I found myself privileged with my knowledge of looking at the ants in the wall as more than ants in the wall, of understanding that walking into a new room is more than just walking into a new room. But what does it all mean?

Download and watch The Tender Cut here for free.

Greg Bem plays too many games and dreams too many dreams. He lives in Seattle where he works as a librarian.

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