This year’s Ghost In The Shell wonderfully borrows from its source material in every respect. The beautiful, abstract world and complex philosophy of Mamoru Oshii’s anime film serves as the backdrop for Rupert Sanders’ 2017 masterpiece and not only does Sanders translate anime to big screen with utter perfection, he also instills new themes that are pertinent to our modern setting.
Sanders’ film, like the anime, explores what it means to be human in a world where machines are also members of society, debating whether the mind or the body is what truly defines our humanity. In Sanders’ movie this theme is altered and taken one step further with the characters of Scarlett Johansson’s Major and Michael Pitt’s Hideo Kuze, by switching humanity with identity and essentially asking: Does race extend to the mind?
(Note: The following contains spoilers for Ghost in the Shell.)
Does Race Extend To The Mind?
When Ghost in the Shell was first announced, the casting of #ScarlettJohansson as the Major caused a great deal of controversy around the web. In spite of this, her casting in the film brings forth one of its most interesting questions that challenges viewers to ponder whether their mind is also a component of their race.
In the movie Scarlett Johansson plays a Caucasian Mira Killian, who is actually Motoko Kusanagi, an Asian woman. Motoko was kidnapped and killed by the Hanka company. Her brain was then implanted into a synthetic body resembling a white woman. The same was done to Michael Pitt’s character, Kuze, in the male form. From the start of the film the Major is in search of her identity and when she discovers who she really is, or who she rather was, she has to decide whether her shell or her ghost determines her true self. The film suggests that our soul, or consciousness, defines who we are, not our memories and not our bodies. But the former and the latter is something the Major is heavily struggling with.
In the movie, as in our present society, our physique and how we externally present ourselves is what makes other people differentiate us from the rest. It is a prime element of our identity. How we physically look and how we dress are factors that make us uniquely us. To Motoko this is of utmost importance, as it is her past. Her culture is now encased in a shell that doesn’t represent her culture. But does our culture and race only reside in what we look like to the outside world or does it also constitute a part of our soul? In other words, Motoko was born an Asian woman, but was her ghost born the same as well?
Body & Mind: Are They One And The Same?
The movie suggests that our soul is what truly makes us who we are and one scene in Ghost in the Shell that perfectly follows the idea, and perhaps is the most profound scene in the whole movie, is when the Major visits and speaks to her mother.
Here her mother welcomes into her home what looks like a complete stranger, the Major. Immediately the Major’s mother feels like this stranger is no stranger at all and is reluctant to let the stranger leave because she feels like she is in the presence of her daughter. Even though this stranger looks nothing like her daughter and acts completely different from how she described her daughter. At the same time while speaking with her mother the Major is discovering who she was and is surprised to learn that that person is nothing like what she acts and feels now. This suggests that the soul serves as the true embodiment of our identity, but that it is not independent to what inherently carries it. The scene suggests that though our consciousness is essentially absent of race and culture, the soul mirrors the shell that bears it. It’s an interesting concept exploring the notion that one thing doesn’t go without the other.
We are who we are through our perception of our physical self. Ghost in the Shell suggests that our mind, soul, and consciousness is absent of identity-defining attributes like culture and race, while at the same time being unique in nature; concurrently implying that race and culture are not a costume worn by the soul, but rather an equal extension that is just as important.
Ghost in the Shell is now playing in theaters everywhere.