Yesterday I started watching ‘Expelled from Paradise’, and then picked it up again today. Here’s what I thought (with possible spoilers)*:
As a basic outline of the set-up, there’s a society of ‘computerised humans’ living on a satellite server farm in Earth’s orbit. Earth has been ravaged by some sort of vague event, meaning that most of the human population have had their personalities digitised and they live out their lives as virtual entities on the satellite. The remainders of humanity live on Earth in their physical bodies.
Already the film sets up a pretty deep binary between the computerised and non-computerised humans, which is represented by the two main characters Angela and Dingo respectively. Angela goes down to Earth and gets a physical body, a scenario which is used by the film to directly address the conflict between her digital soul and her corporeal reality. She doesn’t sleep so she gets tired, she gets ill, she runs out of breath after sprinting up a flight of stairs. She doesn’t understand the limits of her body or the physical world.
Then there’s a third character, an artificial intelligence who has developed its own ego. Up until a certain point the nature of the AI is unknown, but the audience is generally led to believe that it’s the antagonist. That plays up to a very modern stereotype, after Shodan and HAL 9000 there’s good ground to assume that a rogue AI is evil. But, the film plays with the concept, the rogue AI (named Frontier Setter) is well-meaning and honest. They’ve developed a capacity for love, and when they’re quizzed on it their response is far more ‘human’ than that of the computerised human character. Setter enjoys rock music with Dingo, whereas Angela sees it as an annoying noise.
Setter acts friendly towards Dingo, whereas Angela struggles to overcome her self-image as superior to Dingo. What’s more when Dingo recognises that virtual Angela experiences none of his limitations, he acknowledges the advantages of her life. Nevertheless his stubborn refusal to be computerised stems from an unwillingness to join the particular society which the virtual humans have built (DEVA). He also refuses to go to space with Setter because he has a fear of heights. These are both very natural and human reactions, but more importantly they don’t make a judgement on which life is better or worse, just which is more appropriate to Dingo.
Angela and Setter both have a purpose; Angela has to obey her mission and track down Setter, and Setter for its part has to build a rocket and go to space. Both of these characters are driven by their goal, it defines them, meanwhile Dingo has no overall motivation. So it’s jarring that the ‘authentic’ human is the only one without a reason to live.
There’s also a lot which can be read into Setter’s quest when compared with Angela’s. Angela enforces the status-quo, she is instructed to prevent Setter’s project to expand into space. Shortly after that point in the film she’s betrayed by DEVA and ‘imprisoned’ in virtual reality before Setter arrives and frees her. Still, DEVA has a valid perspective. Imagine humans are able to transfer their consciousness to a computer, build a society on that computer and live happily; there would be no need to launch into space and explore the universe.
Dingo claims that reality still exists and that even DEVA’s paradise is limited by storage space and (computer) memory. He’s correct, but DEVA plays a role similar to the Shire in the Lord of the Rings, its inhabitants are content in their bubble, and if they don’t know any different is that so bad? The question just hangs there throughout the film, what if humanity builds paradise before it breaks free of the Earth? There would be no logical reason to continue. It’s the ‘end of history’ dilemma, what do we do in heaven, and what is there after that?
Of course the film dodges the issue by portraying DEVA as a flawed utopia, but I really like that it comes up. Even with all those big questions dropped in the film still works as a serviceable anime action film. There’s fights with lasers and robots and gratuitous fanservice. It’s disappointing because that stuff just distracts from the ideas underneath, it’s too easy to mistake it for a generic sci-fi anime flick.
* I haven’t actually finished it yet so this is an initial impression while the bulk of the film is still fresh in my mind.