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Thursday, April 6, 2017 12:04 am

Johansson’s humanity makes for rewarding Ghost

Scarlett Johansson as Major in Ghost in the Shell.


With last week’s announcement that Elon Musk and his team are working on developing implants that will be put in our brains so that we can interface wirelessly with computers, we were brought one step closer towards realizing all that the sci-fi genre promised us was possible. The line between science fiction and science fact has been narrowing for years, with personal interactions and social norms the collateral damage and increased isolation as the result.

As such, Rupert Sanders’ Ghost in the Shell proves to be a compelling, cautionary tale that looks at this issue afresh. While there is an obvious narrative through-line between the film, “Westworld” and Blade Runner, there’s a sense of urgency to this production that those previous entries lacked due to the fact that all it portends seems all the more possible. Driven by a poignant performance from its lead (Scarlett Johansson) as well as stunning visuals that are every bit as engrossing as Blade Runner and The Fifth Element, Sanders’ movie proves to be an urgent, compelling piece of work that doesn’t skimp on emotion as often done by many films of this sort.

The most advanced product from Hanka Robotics, Major (Johansson) is the perfect melding of human and machine – a fully-automated robotic body that can traverse through electrical current and housing and is commanded by someone’s brain. Used on a trial basis to investigate a string of murders, the cyborg is constantly told that she is human by Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche), the scientist that spearheaded the team that created her. However, memories that were supposedly wiped out haunt Major, and she comes to suspect that what she’s been told of her past may not be true, with little suspect that her investigation will uncover answers to questions she didn’t even realize she had.

Questions of identity abound as Major is told again and again that the ghost (her mind) is hers and that as long as she has this, she will retain her humanity. One of her superiors points out “you’re what we will all become one day,” which does little to console her. Though the character is given clues to her past, she never comes to a definite conclusion as to whom she is or where she’s from. Ultimately, she lives by the notion that “memories can’t define us; what we do defines us,” an attempt to establish an identity she can control.

Controversy erupted when Johansson was cast in the title role, since the original comic book was based in Japan and the lead character Japanese as well. To some degree, this is negated, as the question of ever-shifting identities are central to the film’s theme, as barriers of nationality and even sex become non-issues once a person’s mind is installed in its shell. Dealing with the themes of ethnicity and gender could prove fascinating in future installments, if this film proves successful enough to warrant their making.

In the end, Johansson’s efforts are the key to making the film work. She brings to life the conflict between Major’s physical, mental and emotional natures in a myriad of different ways. Note her slightly robotic walk, the way she uses her eyes to comprehend all that is around her and the heart she projects when she finally uncovers the secrets from her past. She brings humanity to the film, something that Blade Runner lacked, making this a far more moving, if no less terrifying, vision of our future.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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