Veronica Coates

Ghost in the Shell

“When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” (1Corinthians13:11-12. The Ghost of Kusanagi’s whisper in the ship)

Mamoru Oshii presents a film adapted from the graphic novel by Shirow Masamune. Conscience has the lead role in this movie, creating its own identity through metaphors and a future vision which doesn’t seem so distant from a possible reality for humanity. The use of memory and imagination serve as vehicles of the conscience. The relativity of life, the confinements of our bodies as well as the idea of the “Ghost” encompasses these concepts and gives a slight heterodox, nonetheless very palpable translation of the “conscience” for our time. This leads me to question how much of science fiction is truly fiction? It doesn’t surprise me that this film was one the main influences for the film “The Matrix” (by the Wachowski brothers who openly accepted this), which is in my opinion clever yet not withstanding in comparison to “Ghost in the Shell”. Through this film we can appreciate the idea of spirit breaking from its material boundaries and becoming independent of it, and how these “unrealistic” thoughts should not be so hastily discarded.

The memory, based on partiality, permits the control of the past. We are led to believe that this partiality however cannot exist in cyborgs given their programming which is mandatory, due to their robotic nature. Therefore, memory plays a central role in the formation of conscience.

Imagination, on the other hand, allows us, to a certain extent, to control the future. Everything…absolutely everything that we imagine is within the range of possibility, as a consequence to our ever innovative and curious nature as well as our constant revalorization of reality; thus becoming another central role of the formation of conscience.

The human body could evolve to become relative. It sounds as a stretch for our present actuality, nonetheless it seems impossible to disprove that we may be already headed toward that path. This film presents us with this possibility (in this case with cybernetic bodies), just as long as a conscience (or a “ghost”) exists, given the latter can transport itself from body to body. Does this all sound like a far fetched fantastical fusion of fiction? Does the Oriental Philosophy and idea of reincarnation then too? What about the Eckanists’ practice of soul travel? As a became more informed about these ideas, I realized they were valid in my head.

The concept of the “ghost” includes the control of memory as well as the possibility of control of imagination. It is a metaphor for the soul, conscience, inner force or what you will. The only radical difference in Masamune’s vision (apart from the fact that the bodies are cyborgs) is that there can be a union between two “ghosts” to create a new one (in this case the unity of the Puppet Master and Kusanagi). What happens when machines gain control of the past and the future? Can artificial intelligence morph its ultimate step into becoming? This issue rises in the development of the film, guiding me to conclude that only time can tell; but it doesn’t seem such a remote possibility anymore.

As humans we have a conscience, but don’t realize that our next step will be to reprogram ourselves (since we humans are bio-computers with the inherent possibility of reprogramming). Let us keep this unfamiliar view of ourselves open, so we can have glimpses from this perspective, of where we came from and where we want to be in the future. It gives me hope that there are visionaries such as Oshii out there who provide us with such inquiries and intricacies, and what better vehicle than animation, which has been underestimated in the West, and passed off as “for kids,” however, bearing great potential given its lack of limits and constraints as opposed to traditional film.

After reading this essay one might think “so basically it’s possible that in the future souls will run around free while cyborgs rule the earth…that’s a solid realistic thought!” I am not stating these thoughts as facts, however I believe the rationale behind these ideas are worthy of consideration. I insist that we should open our minds when dealing with spirit and matter, rather than reduce ourselves to what we absorb through senses and culture. If we can accept this as a possibility, then we can open a door that leads to an infinite spiral of new undiscovered realm in spirituality, thus introducing, though very archaically, humanity’s next evolving phase, starting to leave behind the limiting confinements of time and space reinforced by body and self. To simply be in essence… isn’t that a strangely comfortable thought?