ByScott Wardell, writer at
Editor at MP. It never gets easier, you just go faster.
Scott Wardell

Ghost in the Shell illustrates a world where physical perfection is only a price tag away. Cybernetic enhancement doesn't come cheap, but the ability to have x-ray vision or survive a week-long bender thanks to a robotic liver is a price that many in this future are willing to pay. With cybernetic enhancement as commonplace as our reality's tattoos or piercings, opting out of these elective procedures is looked upon with disbelief and a sideways glance.

The burning question at the heart of tackles the issue of diminishing humanity in an increasingly robotic world: Where does the soul (ghost) reside? While the film scratches at the surface of this query, its depictions of life in this cyberpunk future show that the further we progress into cybernetic enhancement, the more we lose touch with our own humanity.

As the line between man and machine becomes blurred, the relationship between corporeal self and inner self shifts into a grey area that forces us to wonder what makes us truly human — our mind or our bodies?

The Balance Between Human And Machine

'Ghost in the Shell' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]
'Ghost in the Shell' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]

Most interactions in mid-21st century New Port City will inevitably lead to discovering what and where someone got their latest "work." Ghost in the Shell demonstrates that the facade of "beauty" is a coverup for the dismal reality we all too often seek to escape. With enhancement procedures so ubiquitous in everyday life, the question of "What are you?" soon replaces the question of "Who are you?"

The transition from "who" to "what" speaks volumes about the diminishing views of humanity in the future. As we replace our bodies, we begin to lose touch with our humanness. In stripping away our organic parts, we are effectively undoing our genetic makeup, reducing the human body to nothing more than a shell in which the ghost lives. This would seem to suggest that what makes us human is the blood, tissue and bones that comprise our corporeal selves, and that those who enhance themselves are beginning to lose touch with their humanity.

So, is it our biology that make us human? What happens when we surpass our biological limitations and tip the scale towards machine? Enter: Major Mira Killian, the first successful union of human mind in a fully cybernetic body.

A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste

'Ghost in the Shell' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]
'Ghost in the Shell' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]

Major Killian complicates this issue, as she has no organic parts (save her human brain) yet still experiences glitches of memories that computer programming and coding cannot eliminate. What little humanity she does relate to, she draws from these memories — the last shred of her organic self. As Major Killian spends the majority of the film trying to discover the details of her previous life, she grapples with the question of whether or not she is still human. These memories suggest to her that she still possesses some autonomy within her robotic shell.

'Ghost in the Shell' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]
'Ghost in the Shell' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]

So, does personhood stem from the mind? For Major, her humanity is rooted in her memories, the biological code that — in a future where even the human mind can be hacked — remains familiar despite her cybernetic enhancements. By the end of the film however, Major learns to accept her humanity in stride with her enhanced self, recognizing her memories of a life once lived without clinging to them. In this way, Major bridges the gap between human and machine without fully committing to one or the other.

Major's ability to balance the two sides of her personhood stands in stark contrast to other characters who refrain from any and all cybernetic enhancement.

My Name Is Major, And I Do Not Consent To This Operation

'Ghost in the Shell' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]
'Ghost in the Shell' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]

Despite the popularity of these elective procedures, not all are swayed by the flashy, holographic billboards that promote the latest and greatest in cybernetic enhancements. Ghost in the Shell introduces Section 9 member Togusa, who, in this film, is a "natural" human, free from modifications. When asked why Togusa chooses not to cybernetically enhance himself, he replies:

"I'm all human and I like it that way."

One could make the argument that Togusa is most in touch with his humanity because of how he sees himself. Free from enhancement, Togusa recognizes his own mortality and is not intimidated by it. As another character suggests, cybernetic enhancements pose a "risk to individuality." Perhaps it is Togusa's desire to retain his intact sense of self that drives him to reject any robotic upgrades. For Togusa, humanity rests in the balance where physical self and inner self are at harmony with one another.

More Human Than Human

Ghost in the Shell does not seek to answer the question of where our humanity lies, but examines how advancements in cybernetic enhancements change our relationships with our bodies. This future dystopia takes a hard look at the cost of perfection and illustrates how fragile our perceptions of humanity become when we begin to favor enhancement over evolution.


Is humanity rooted in the mind or the body?

(Sources: Vox, Mashable)


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