“You are not defined by your past, but for your actions.”
Well, everybody’s been speaking about Ghost in the Shell lately. Why not me as well?
The story is set in a future in which cyborgs and cyber-enhancements are an everyday, common thing. Major (Scarlett Johansson) is a human that has been through some severe modification to become the perfect weapon in the battle against cyber criminals.
I watched the movie having my curiosity ignited by comments I had read that would either praise the movie or heavily bury it. You see, works of art like this, which cause opinions to split, make me even more intrigued in them.
So, a few minutes after the film started, I had already made my first realization: the movie is aesthetically a pleasure to behold to. The visuals are marvelous, making the viewers feel that they are in an endless gallery of moving paintings. Movies with such visuals, including Ghost in the Shell, the recent (and panned) The Neon Demon and Under the Skin (another film starring Scarlett Johansson), evoke a feeling similar as to what we have seen in expressionistic movies of the past, like the classic Metropolis by Fritz Lang. You will find yourself more than once wishing to be able to pause the film just to observe for a little longer the amazing job done by the visuals department.
However, no matter how eye-appealing a film can look, it always needs some content to back up for its good looks. And, to be honest, the content here is quite interesting.
There is a constant conflict –a contrast- in this movie, since some of its topics are double-sided: artificial intelligence vs human brain, and materiality vs spirituality. Add to these man playing God and intervening in biology, and of course the issue of free will, and you have a nicely-served ‘menu’ of some of literature’s most discussed themes.
But the balance between aesthetics and content is, in my opinion, in some way lost here. Blade Runner dealt with the exact same topics and in a similar futuristic setting and its delivery was better –in fact, masterful. In the case of Ghost in the Shell, I found the execution somehow lacking. The multitude of the visual pleasing scenes allows for less character and story development and quite often I found myself wondering how this or that happened since no sufficient explanation was given. I also had the feeling that there were some events that director Rupert Sanders rushed a bit in order to bring us to more important parts of the movie.
Now, I haven’t read the manga or seen the anime movie yet, but I guess the motives are more or less the same. I am also aware that the Ghost in the Shell franchise has managed to inspire quite many philosophical discussions about the issues mentioned above*.
Of course, the movie does not provide answers to those issues. And that’s cinema’s role as well: not to give answers –who could give definite answers to big questions anyway?- but to offer food for thought and light the spark of discussion, debate, questions and pondering.
All of these show why Ghost in the Shell, despite that weakness in its execution, is a piece of art nonetheless: it is aesthetically wonderful and manages to inspire and to encourage thinking; and although the latter is done in a somehow clumsy manner, it is still achieved.
And judging by the fact that this movie made me write a film review after a long time, I can only say that the mission is accomplished. Good job, Ghost in the Shell. Good job…
Times I took a break to check my phone: 1
*Ι am not someone that would compare original material to an adaption –in fact I strongly believe that adaptions don’t have to stick to original material, and it is perfectly fine for them to provide different takes on the same story. I am only mentioning the manga and the anime to refer to their themes.
(Header image credits: Paramount Pictures International)