“Ghost in the Shell”


            “Ghost in the Shell” envisions a future where the distinction between human and machine becomes increasingly blurred.  Humans choose to continually “upgrade” with cyber-components.  There aren't many humans left who aren't at least part machine.  All in the unending quest for self-enhancement.

            The government, meanwhile, utilizes technology to become increasingly controlling and invasive to its citizenry, all in the name of “security.”  Anyone who opposes them is by definition a “terrorist,” and needs to be removed.

            The few people who still manage to nurture the quite-human instinct of rebelling against authority find themselves increasingly outnumbered.  It seems there was a little cell of runaways, renegades, futuristic beatniks/hippies/dropouts/slackers who were particular targets of the government's “repatriation” program.  They were simply captured and handed over to the “experimental”division, and their families were notified that they were deceased. 

            “Major” (Scarlett Johansson) is the prize cyborg, because she is the first sucessful robot with a complete brain transplant.  Once the operation was completed, they then fed her brain with “false” memories of  losing her family in a boating disaster, and she was saved from drowning.  They give her drugs to maintain control of her mind, but tell her it's to preserve the cohesion between her manufactured body (“shell”) and her “ghost,” or mind.  Thus, she's a “ghost in a shell.”  Oh, and they created her with this practically-invulnerable shell so they could use her as an “anti-terrorist” weapon, but really, she's just a government-sponsored assassin.  And she's good at it, because she can also “morph” into a virtual disappearance, and is able to stalk human prey through mind-hacking.  Her “handlers” are delighted with her usefulness as an elimination tool.

            Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) is reponsible for the repair and maintenance of Major, but being human herself, she's also attuned to the “ghost” or “spirit” side of their magnificent machine.  Since Major possesses an intact human mind, she's also capable of emotion, intuition, fear, pride, self-delusion, intransigence, and maybe even...affection?  Dr. Ouelet would love to see this side of Major nurtured, but she's being overruled by her bosses, who want to negate any unpredictable part of Major so they can more completely control her.

            What Major begins to discover is that all is not as it appears, including what they have told her about herself.   She wonders whom she can trust.  She's tempted to “go rogue,” knowing that that would make her the next target of the government.  But sometimes the price of freedom is rebellion.

            This futuristic scenario is all too credible, and Ms. Johansson is quite convincing in her robotic role, even if she does have to prance around in a tight body suit.  We empathize in her quest for finding her own unique humanity in the midst of a depersonalizing environment.  And we hope this really is science fiction, and not eerily prophetic.


Questions for Discussion:

1)                  What essential human components can robotics not duplicate?

2)                  Do you envision a future similar to the one predicted here?

3)                  When should the government not be trusted to be operating in our best interests?


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association