Friday, September 29, 2017

Movie Review: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Ghost in the Shell (2017) directed by Rupert Sanders

Major (Scarlett Johansson) is on the cutting edge of a futuristic technological revolution. Lots of people have cybernetic enhancements. Major is a next step--a human brain implanted in an artificial body by the Hanka Robotic Corporation (thus the human "ghost" in the robotic "shell"). She works for Section 9, an anti-terrorist law enforcement unit focused on cybercrime, with other, less enhanced, individuals. They break up what seems to be an assassination attempt on an African leader but quickly it becomes clear someone is targeting high-level Hanka scientists. Major works the case, only to discover that memories of her life before implantation may not be accurate and the glitches she experiences may be her true memories trying to resurface. Where should her loyalties lie?

Much like Blade Runner, the film depicts a future overrun by both technology and squalor. Most people enjoy the benefits of cybernetic enhancement but life isn't completely changed or improved. The new project, where just the brain is preserved, is presented as a next step in human evolution. But the step is hardly definitive given the technical difficulty and the opportunity to manipulate those who undergo the process. Criminals still exist and it's not just Major who has altered memories. Areas of the city are rundown and stray dogs still wander the streets. The film both admires and fears the future it promises.

The film also deals with the philosophical problem of identity. With the possibility of false memories, Major's identity comes into question and she has to decide (if she can) what to do about it. The identities of other characters are called into question, not just from false memories but also from false information given about them. Several times, characters say that what you do is important, not your memories. Such an attitude is a bit of an oversimplification, since decisions rely on character and past experience. Past experience can be unreliable, but so can character. Choices certainly can shift character in new directions through creating new attitudes and new memories. Major seems to have these shifts during the film though the filmmakers have not teased out the detail. The movie loses focus on the dynamics of human moral life and instead seems to advocate humanity achieving a new evolutionary level.

I found the film more intellectually engaging than emotionally satisfying. Major is an interesting character but her shift from more robotic to more human didn't draw me in. The performances are good but not outstanding. The belief that this is the next step in human development (which the filmmakers seem to endorse) is almost wholly unconvincing. Visually, it's amazing but the false optimism of a new life for humanity drags it down into the squalor the movie so aptly depicts.

Only recommended for science fiction or philosophy of identity fans.

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