02/04/17, Ghost in the Shell
Bewildered anger from one friend afterwards, in the bar of Cameo cinema. A nonplussed, unimpressed set of views from another. I was embarrassed to compare ratings with them over cider, with my '6.5-out-of-ten' against their two and four. Is Ghost in the Shell so bad? This was its first Saturday showing, and Cameo had moved it to one of their lesser screening rooms. Word has got around, it seems, that it's not a film worth watching.
As a 3D Imax experience, it would have been more spectacular, slightly. But even '3D' won't stop it from being a 2D film in every other sense: the 'philosophy' never goes anywhere, whether you compare it with Blade Runner's meditation on what it is to be human, or Morpheus asking Neo 'what is real?' in The Matrix. Ghost in the Shell wants to be this kind of movie but arguably tries too hard, or at least, too obviously. The mood gets killed by the amount of 'Tell-don't-show': Scarlett Johansson's protagonist, the 'Major,' articulates her disconnectedness by telling people she feels disconnected. With better script writers, this could have been a Blade Runner, but the futuristic imagery – and the dross-like conditions behind the glitz – are never explored or exploited. At the end, we get the kind of statement from Johansson we've heard more poignantly in other films, not least from Nolan's Batman, of the 'It's not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.' For Ghost in the Shell, it's about memory. We are not our past, or even our memories. We are what we do in the present. The problem is, Johansson's protagonist is rescued by her memory. Her past does define her, ultimately, once she's come into contact with her mother, and when she remembers her crucial past relationship to the mysterious figure she's hunting.
Perhaps, though, I can understand the existential angst this film's expressing, and be grateful that it's trying. You don't want to be chained to your past, you want to feel you're autonomous. It's the illusion of reinvention; I know, because I occupy my own illusion, this past year especially. But I also know that it's important to have illusions and even to reach for them, because people can change even if the illusion is a thing that's anti-climactic. It's a shame the film didn't dig just a little deeper to explore this aspect of ourselves: that constant tension between the way things have been against the way we want them to be, and the spaces of 'nearly-but-not-quite' we fall between as a result. Like Ghost in the Shell itself.