‘I’ ON CULTURE
The new film, Ghost in the Shell, was a real disappointment. It could have been a fascinating movie about identity. The original Japanese manga (a graphic novel comic book for adults) was very philosophical about the issue of defining identity. This film focuses mostly on Scarlett Johansson’s body suit as she wipes out innumerable bad guys.
Major (Johansson) is a robot with the brain of a human. A huge corporation took her brain and put it into the body of a super-android, took away all her memories, and turned her into a hunter of cyberterrorists. She has a doctor who serves as a mother figure (Juliette Binoche), assuring her that bits of her old memory that pop up are glitches.
In the meantime, Major and her huge partner Batou (Pilou Asbaek) chase the bad guys under the kindly guidance of a wizened warrior (Takeshi Kitano). Everything seems smooth until Kuze (Michael Pitt) hacks into her programming.
At that point, things start to change when Major realizes that everything she has been told has been a lie, and she decides to right a few wrongs. Suffice it to say, a lot more people die.
The central problem of the film is that it tap-dances around the key philosophical issue of Major’s real identity. Is she simply a contract, as one bad guy claims, merely a product created for a purpose and nothing more? Or is she a person whose identity has been ripped away, and if so, is she her new self or really just the person she was before everything happened?
In a world today, where many of us have artificial hips and knees, where just last week scientists managed to turn a lettuce leaf into a beating heart, we are at the start of an era where we will have more artificial organs within us. The medical community is turning more toward growing new organs and using nanites (microscopic machines that can do things such as clean out arteries and veins and even rebuild organs). Most of us assume that we will still be ourselves as long as our brains stay the same. Of course, that might change as well. People with brain surgery often have altered personalities. But that is for the future.
The film barely touches on the philosophy, although the original manga did, as did a Japanese animated film from 1995. In this film, things run a bit too pat as director Rupert Sanders, who also led the writing team, tried a somewhat different ending leaving an answer that is, well, far too simple.
The problem with a film like this is that it seems far too familiar. Many of the dystopian sci-fi flicks we are seeing seem to be reboots of the Blade Runner world. There are huge holograms on the buildings, which also manage to be impersonal. Somehow, they still have cars that people drive, often badly. Huge corporations run out of control. And, still, there are alleys and all sorts of elements of poverty that many places keep under control.
There are plot holes galore. Batou loses his eyes and gets “tactical eyes” just like Major’s. But hers are Johansson’s eyes, and his look like binoculars. Most of the robotic elements make fairly little sense but seem present just to look good.
Also, the nasty secrets seem known to a lot of people around Major but not to her. Why wouldn’t she want to investigate? Also, at one point, she knocks down the key villain, but leaves him alive. An extra second or two and he would be dead… but so would the plot.
Johansson is almost expressionless throughout. Her special suit, which makes her look like a naked Barbie doll, is far more interesting. Asbaek is good in an undemanding part. Kitano is very good as the philosophical leader of Major’s section, who can be very tough when needed. Binoche seemed mostly confused about her part, although she came across as sweet.
There has been some chatter about cultural appropriation with white leads in what is a Japanese film. We can assume that was done to increase box office numbers. Ho-hum. This is a pretty decent B movie. Lots of action with a bit of pseudo philosophy. And let us not forget Johansson’s costume. You’re better off waiting for on-demand viewing.