Contagion

May 7, 2012

Dr. Leonora Orantes is in Hong Kong investigating how the virus had spread from Beth Emhoff to other people and where this spread originated. She tracks it to Macau saying, “Beth Imhoff used an ATM at a casino in Macau. Citibank released her records. We have her using the machine at 10:43 just off the casino floor. I want to see casino security footage for 2 hours on either side of that.” She also finds out that Sum Feng’s mother and others in his village have also been infected, which later causes him to kidnap her and take her to the village, so that her access to the cure will allow them to get the vaccine faster.

This scene, among others in the film, illustrates the fast and untraceable origins of the virus in that the world is too connected to isolate any incident. The repercussions of the interconnectedness of the world are what spread the virus far and wide, while also forcing Dr. Orantes to travel to Hong Kong and investigate the virus there. Her role as the investigator gets her into further trouble as she is then taken hostage, as are other officials like her all around the world. The use of Dr. Orantes in order for Sum Feng’s to gain access to the vaccine for his village also shows how the world is connected, wherein a man in rural China can contact a woman from Switzerland to contact authorities in the U.S., where the vaccine is being developed.
Another aspect of Dr. Orantes investigation that I found troubling was that although she was able to use video footage to figure out who had been infected by Beth Imhoff, her investigation stopped at the human level. As the last scene of the film showed, the virus had bat and pig roots, but these animals cannot be traced as their number and their identification is not like that of humans. The interconnectedness of the world is at once the cure and the cause of the virus.

White Noise

April 30, 2012

“Maybe we ought to be more concerned about the billowing cloud,” she said. “It’s because of the kids we keep saying nothing’s going to happen. We don’t want to scare them.”
“Nothing is going to happen.”
“I know nothing’s going to happen, you know nothing’s going to happen. But at some level we ought to think about it anyway, just in case.”
“These things happen to poop people who live in exposed areas. Society is set up in such a way that it’s the poor and the uneducated who suffer the main impact of natural and man-made disasters. People in low-lying areas get the floods, people in shanties get the hurricanes and tornados. I’m a college professor. Did you ever see a college professor rowing a boat down his own street in one of those TV floods? We live in a neat and pleasant town near a college with a quaint name. These things don’t happen in places like Blacksmith.” (111-112)

This passage in the novel exposes the fears of Jack and Babette in dealing with the airborne toxic event. Although Jack and Babette do have an obsession with death throughout the parts of the book before this event, it truly brings it out. Jack is lulled into a sense of security wherein the daunting cloud of smoke does not deter his belief that they can dies by it. Babette, on the other hand, clues into this false sense of security and questions its reality. In this event, Babette and Jack are on opposite sides of the spectrum of doubt and uncertainty. This passage also exposes the idea of the book that uncertainty and doubt is a pervasive part of society, especially in the lives of Jack and Babette, who seem to be so sure in their relationship. Another aspect of the novel this passage exposes is the nature of social class. Part of Jack’s certainty in his safety is through his class in society. He views his class as a safety net of being saved from disaster, which in fact is a false perception, as uncertainty and risk is all-encomapssing.

Superhero

April 23, 2012

Scene: The man and the boy have confronted the thief who had stolen their cart. The man orders the thief to take all his clothes off distressing the boy, who begins to cry. The man forces the boy to leave the thief behind, yelling at him that he is trying to teach him to be strong because he won’t be there for him forever. Later, on the beach, the boy, still upset, tells his father that the thief had only done so, because, “He’s just hungry.” The father reacts angrily, saying, I’m scared. Do you understand? I am scared! You’re not the one who has to worry about everything.” The boy quietly responds, “I am. […] I am the one who has to worry.” This statement causes the father to agree to leave the thief’s clothes and some food behind for him.

This exchange depicts the strife in differentiating wrong from right when under the dire circumstances of a post-apocalyptic world. The man, in these circumstances, is the moral compass for the boy, as he teaches the boy what is right for them as the “good guys” in this world. The man’s actions in dealing with the thief trouble the boy as they go against what he views as the “good guys” would do. This scene, along with others in the film, reveals the boy’s struggle to identify his father as a hero, while still being able to survive in the world of the film. The man’s actions against the thief, who can be clearly defined as a villain, cause the boy to feel as if his father is acting in a villain-like manner. In this scenario, the boy with his moral qualms, becomes the hero in contrast to his father. He reveals the just like his father, he also worries, yet is still able to abide by the principles his father has taught him in order for them both to remain the “good guys.”

 

Ancient

April 16, 2012

There was a pause, and then she said angrily, “It’s not that I’m afraid of dying, Dwight. We’ve all got to do that some time. It’s all the things I’m going to miss…” […] I wouldn’t know if Paris got a bomb or not. Maybe it’s all there still just as it was, with the sun shining down the street the way you’d want to see it. That’s the way I like to think about that sort of place. It’s just that folks don’t live there any more.” (41)

This passage in the book made me think of the world in the novel as being like the ancient world. The characters have no way of knowing what exactly is going on the rest world as there’s no way of communicating with the world. They can only know about the world that they can see, the only form of feasible reality. Every other place is accessible through imagination, as Captain Towers does, or through difficult travel, which the navy does and is not open to the whole population. Also, the technology of the new world, especially cars, have been rendered unusable due to the loss of fuel, casing the population to rely on older modes of transport, such as bullock cart, making the world quite literally like the ancient world. This situation of the new world is made further pessimistic as it is not the way the world was from the beginning of time, but the characters have known much of the world and then it has been taken away from them. This results in them feeling like they are missing a part of their lives, as opposed to the innocent unawareness that was the ancient world.

Real?

April 2, 2012

Scene: Douglas Hall has discovered his 1990s world is simulated and questions Jane about it. Douglas identifies himself as a puppet, to which Jane replies, “A puppet can’t have a soul.” Douglas claims he doesn’t have a soul, to which Jane replies he does, an anomaly of the 1990s simulation they had created in 2024, wherein the people there should not know anything of the simulation, but both Fuller and Douglas had figured it out. Jane believes it means that they do have souls, but Douglas says that since this is simulated, pulling a plug means the end of the simulation, his actions, thereby his unexpected soul. Jane explains Douglas’ link to his user David, who is her husband. She says that she knows Douglas because she has watched him ever since the simulation was created, seeing his acts of kindness and falling in love with him. Douglas argues how she can love him if he isn’t real as a dream cannot be loved, crying. Jane replies, “You’re more real to me than anything I’ve ever known.”

This scene in the film explores what it means to be part of a created or simulated world, and its repercussions of humanity. Douglas’ discovery of his role in a simulation causes him to lose belief in the importance of his own actions, as this behavior can eradicated along with the simulation. This disconnect between the morality and self can also be seen in the change in Ashton once he understands that he is part of a fake, created world. Ashton becomes increasingly erratic, acting without fear of repercussion as he has lost all the semblance to reality that had been given to his simulated world Although these simulated worlds are created, the characters of Douglas and Fuller in particular, beg the question of whether or not these worlds and the people therein are real, a question linked to the question of their having souls. Jane, through her observations of Douglas and Fuller believes they do. She is also inspired by their superior intellect, as they have both figured out the simulation of their 1990s world, something that has not happened in any of the thousands of other simulations. Jane’s belief in the presence of soul in Douglas is supported by her own feelings for him, culminating in her idea that he is the most real thing she knows, even though he is a simulated projection of her husband.
The ending of the film further complicates the idea of the 1990s world as a simulation from the 2024 world, with the 1937 world being an offshoot of the 1990s simulation, by the use of the graphic of a computer turning off. It makes me wonder if the 2024 is also some sort of simulation by a more advanced species, blurring the idea of Jane, her father, and David being real, while Douglas and the others in the 1990 world being created. Another aspect of the film that complicates these rules of the world is the transfer of the consciousness of the simulated person into the person jacking in to them, such as when Ashton travels into Whitney’s 1990s body and Douglas travels to David’s 2024 body. This can mean that since the consciousness is fully formed, it is real, a soul, and moving it to the root of the simulations only solidifies its existence.

Still Primitive

March 26, 2012

“Ella, pretty and light-skinned; her eyes, in the days when they had been open, had been bright and luminous blue. That would not again occur; he could talk to her and hear her answer; he could communicate with her…but he would never again see her with eyes opened; nor would her mouth move. She would not smile at his arrival. When he departed she would not cry. Is this worth it? He asked himself. Is this better than the hold way, the direct road from full-life to the grave? I still do have her with me, in a sense, he decided. The alternative is nothing.
In the earphone words, slow and uncertain, formed: circular thoughts of no importance, fragments of the mysterious dream which she now dwelt in. How did it feel, he wondered, to be in half-life? He could never fathom it from what Ella had told him; the basis of it, the experience of it, couldn’t really be transmitted. Gravity, she had told him, once; it begins not to affect you and you float, more and more. When half-life is over, she had said, I think you float out of the System, out into the stars. But she did not know either; she only wondered and conjectured.” (Dick 12)

This passage deals with the technology of half-life in the novel, wherein dead people are frozen and inert, but their minds are still able to understand and communicate with the living. It is in this state that Glen Runciter meets his wife, Ella, for a business meeting of sorts. Glen is greatly affected by the fact that Ella cannot physically move or show emotion, as this part of her is dead. He then decides that this type of living is better than her being fully dead, because then she would be totally gone.
Another aspect of Glen’s relationship with the half-life Ella is his inability to understand this state of half-life as he is not in it. He can only take what Ella tells him about it and think it to be true. Unless he has experienced it he cannot explain it, and still then, his consciousness might be obstructed by not being fully living. What still twists this half-life truth is the fact that no one knows what comes after this half-life. Even though the society in Ubik has advanced enough to unlock the secrets to keeping someone consciously alive for a small amount of time, they, as well as their half-life counterparts, still do not know and like Ella, can only wonder and conjecture.

March 19, 2012

Scene: Jake is using his Avatar for the first time, which means he now has control over his legs as a Na’vi-human hybrid. After being activated, an excited Jake runs out of the compound and into Pandora without the need for an oxygen mask. He is now able to not only run, but use his senses to interact with Pandora, as can be seen through the sensation of dirt on his feet and the taste of the fruit. Although he is experiencing all this through his avatar, it is not physically experienced in his real body, but is mentally.

Jake’s interaction with Pandora extends beyond this initial experience as a Na’vi-human hybrid. At first, even this experience is quite amazing for Jake as he does not have the use of his leg in his real body, so that avatar is a welcome change for him. Once he immerses himself in the role of his avatar, a member of the Na’vi race, does he really transcend the human part of himself. As a member of the Na’vis he is able to tap into the great resource that is Eywa and draw from her not only inspiration from ancestors, but also links with other species on Pandora. The relationship between the Na’vi and the other animals on Pandora reaches a more subconscious level through their link and also a sense of responsibility towards the animals, where their killing for food is seen as a sacrifice to help the people and part of the cyclical nature of Pandora. Jake after spending time with the Na’vi is able to experience, understand, and accept this, which is manifested through his prayer to Eywa before the last battle in the film, and its answer in the aid of the other animals of Pandora.

Dawn

March 12, 2012

“Yes. The ooloi see great potential in it. So the trade has already been useful. […] Yes. We trade the essence of ourselves. Our genetic material for yours. […] We do what you would call genetic engineering. We know you had begun to do it yourselves a little, but it’s foreign to you. We do it naturally. We must do it. It renews us, enables us to survive as an evolving species instead of specializing ourselves into extinction or stagnation. […] We’re not hierarchical, you see. We never were. But we are powerfully acquisitive. We acquire new life—seek it, investigate it, manipulate it, sort it, use it. We carry the drive to do this in a miniscule cell within a cell—a tiny organelle within every cell of our bodies. Do you understand me?” (Butler 40)

The description of the process of biomimicry and genetic engineering by the ooloi on themselves and humans is characterized as a type of trading. It seems that the ooloi see it as sort of a trade that positively impacts both species involved, and find it to be necessary for survival throughout long amounts of time. This modification is not only a psychological desire on the part of the ooloi as it was for humans, but it is a biological need, and acting upon it fulfills what their bodies have been designed to do.

The inability of humans to do this and become “evolving species” is what has caused their downfall and the ooloi believe that their subsequent arrangement with them will create a new, progressive society. In addition to the human failure in becoming an “evolving species,” the presence of a hierarchical system on Earth is also pointed to as being a degenerative quality of humans. This seems to conflict with the system the ooloi than set up with Lilith and the other human, modifying her in order to make her the leader, and thus, better than the other humans.

Neuromancer

February 27, 2012

“His vision crawled with ghost hieroglyphs, translucent lines of symbols arranging themselves against the neutral backdrop of the bunker wall. He looked at the backs of his hands, saw faint neon molecules crawling beneath the skin, ordered by the unknowable code. He raised his right hand and moves it experimentally. It left a faint, fading trail of strobed afterimages.
The hair stood up along his arms and at the back of his neck. He crouched there with his teeth bared and felt for the music. The pulse faded, returned, faded….” (233)

In this passage, Case and his consciousness is constructed by the artificial intelligence Neuromancer. As such, Case and Linda are both literally constructed in the cyberspace as beings of the matrix. As can be seen in the passage, Case is not only mentally in this place, but his physical body is created in the place as well, linking the worlds through both mediums. Case’s presence therein also makes him become part of the matrix in other way, such as being able to feel the other parts of the space, such as the music. Since this scene is a simulation created by neuromance, it may be that the visual imagery that Case experiences is only part of the simulation, but Case’s interactions with Linda suggests otherwise. This not only makes the simulation feel physically real, but also attests to the power of the artificial intelligence Neuromance in finding an appropriate simulation for Case and maintaining it, almost fooling him.

Creation of Facebook

February 22, 2012

Scene: Mark Zuckerberg, after speaking with the Winklevoss brothers and Divya Narenda, broaches the subject of creating a networking website for Harvard students to Eduardo. He asks Eduardo for money to start the website. Mark hopes to mimic the success of Facemash, but with an even bigger incentive. He identifies the exclusivity and community of the website as being the most attractive factors for users. Also, Mark states that by creating the Facebook, he and Eduardo will be creating a community that mimics college society and which they control, as they will hold the keys to the “club.”

This scene in the film encapsulates the idea behind Facebook as a sort of virtual community that mimics real society, at first, college life. Mark equates this online community to real society through seeing one another’s pictures and personal information. Also, Mark’s insistence that by just creating an online community that has a certain amount of exclusive users, it is only natural that others will want to get onto the website as well. This illustrates an understanding of the desire in human nature to attempt to rise to certain social levels, represented her by the exclusive online community of the Facebook. Just as Mark and Eduardo want to be a part of the Phoenix club in Harvard, and are manipulated by its members in order to gain access to the privilege of being a member of this club as well as the social perks it offers, Mark points out that the Facebook will also be such a club that will cause the same type of response in other people. This is again referenced in the explanation of how the Facebook supersedes a Texas college’s own social network by allowing access to the Facebook by other colleges in the area. The use of Facebook by these other colleges than sparks a desire for the other college’s students to also use Facebook in order to be on the same social and community level as their peers.