In Zen, teachers will do almost anything to facilitate awakening in their students. Sometimes even a whack on the head is used. In The Game Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas), a wealthy, divorced, cold-hearted, and domineering San Francisco investment banker, is given a gift on his 48th birthday by his disreputable younger brother Conrad (Sean Penn). After taking a battery of tests, he is ready to participate in a custom-made game provided by the mysterious Consumer Recreation Services.
Used to always being in control, Van Orton suddenly finds himself in a maze of disempowering circumstances which make him feel helpless. A woman (Deborah Kara Unger) joins him on several of these adventures. His movements are monitored everywhere he goes, leaving him with a feeling of being both trapped and exposed. Van Orton's life of comfort and convenience is shattered and, at one point, he finds himself in a Latin American country without resources or anyone who can help him. Marshalling his last ounce of energy and anger, he returns to San Francisco intent on discovering the wizard behind the game.
David Fincher (Seven) directs this claustrophobic thriller with visceral punch and stylistic elan. Early in the film, the protagonist asks another client of Consumer Recreation Services what it's like to play the game. The fellow quotes John 9:25: "Whereas once I was blind, now I can see." Van Orton's long day's journey into night brings him face-to-face with all the ways he has shut down, closed off, and denied his true humanity. All his buttons are pushed until he comes to see the emptiness of his life. The Game is an unforgettable spiritual parable that invites every viewer to ask: What whack on the head would it take to wake me up and open my heart?