Has anyone seen the Black Mirror Christmas Special because I just did and I need to talk about it!
For those of you who are not in the know: Black Mirror is a series of short films (or long episodes) produced by the BBC that revolve around the way humans might hypothetically use technology in the future. It generally displays worst case scenarios in which simple or sometimes seemingly innocuous technology can be used in terrible ways.
On to this episode. Spoilers below!!
Let me start with saying that I was stoked to find that the show was doing a christmas special since I've been deeply impressed with most episodes they've done so far.
This episode seemed to focus mostly on two topics.
The first question delved into human contact. Starting with a simple concept, a situation that (to me at least) isn't a new concept. A fairly uncomfortable man hits on women, helped by a PUA-esque guru (played by Jon Hamm) who looks through his eyes and speaks to him through implants. Him and the several other men watching along. This setup is creepy enough but it seemed too simple for Black Mirror, in my eyes. A cheap shot at best. And so it was. This was purely a setup in which the guru's support eventually leads to the guy going home with a seriously disturbed woman who does a murder-suicide, while Hamm-and-friends watch along without her knowing. He unplugs everything in order to destroy it, asking his comrades to do the same, but stumbles across his wife in the hallway. When she learns of his little night-time-hobby she does what she feels necessary to cut him out of her life; with the touch of a button she blocks him. From here on out they are cut out of their vision, replaces by a blur. Their voices become muffled and unrecognizable.
Throughout the episode we learn that this isn't quite so unusual. The other main character of the episode, Joe went through something similar, if not quite so gruesome, at first. His girlfriend becomes pregnant and after a fight blocks him. She quits her job, moves away and he is left to stare at photo's that no longer have her in him. Until Joe runs into her and sees her belly, even in her blur. He does the only thing he can think of, visit his ex-father-in-law at christmas, knowing she'll be there. Automatically any offspring is blurred too but he now knows there is a child. A child he can't contact. He visits and watches these blurs every year for years until suddenly his ex dies and the block is cancelled. He visits his daughter again, gift in tow. When he meets her we realise she isn't his child and he's been obsessed with a situation that wasn't true. In his grief Joe walks inside, sits down to talk to his ex-father-in-law, mumbling over and over 'I came to meet my daughter'. He tells Joe (knife in hand) to leave, that there is nothing for him there. In a moment of heartache he swings the present at his head, knocking him dead almost instantly. The girl ends up leaving the house for help, but dying from the cold, since they lived so far out into the country. The audience is left to wonder if this character had ever become this hopeless if he hadn't been living a lie for the past 5 years.
The second question this episode deals with is such: Is consciousness in and of itself human or not? And should it be treated in the same way? In this futuristic world it seemed that it was only considered 'real' or 'human' when the situation had use for it. We are first made familiar with this question when Jon Hamm takes a copy consciousness from some wealthy woman and works on breaking its spirit. Although the copy considers itself real, Jon Hamm's character clearly doesn't feel the same way and leaves the copy weeks, then months, in solitary in order to bring it to the brink of insanity. The reason? So she could become the living consciousness of the house of the original, waking her, ordering food when necessary and making her toast Just So.
This cookie, as they call it, doesn't come back until the end of the episode. After Hamm tells his story, inviting Joe to do the same, the world they are in seems to change, ever so slightly. We find out that Hamm has once again been working on a copy consciousness, this time not with the intent to break it, but to get him to confess to his crime. You see, the police had caught him only 2 days prior but he hadn't so much as said a peep. Hamm had created a cookie, set it to believe it had lived out in the tundra for the last 5 years and then after those years given him the human contact it so much craved. Even if he was reluctant to start, he needed what everyone needed, human interaction.
The episode ends on an even darker note for both main characters. Although Hamm is now released from his own prison due to watching and not reporting a murder as well as offering illegal services (the PUA thing), there are some caveats (a word I only now learned the pronunciation of). From here on out he would be blocked. From everyone. After establishing how mentally straining it is to be starved of any form of contact several times in the episode, we see Hamm experiencing an extreme example. The rest of his life he'll be seen as a red (pervert) blur and he'll see and experience no more human interaction. Ever.
And Joe? He is told by the cops that he can be quiet all he wants, but the cookie told them everything. Meanwhile the cookie Joe is left to experience a 1000 years a minute for Christmas day, courtesy of the cruelty of the police.
The whole episode reverberated with the cruelty with which people will treat others when they think too lightly of them. Too lightly of what it means to be blocked from human contact, to lightly of what it means to be a consciousness. The cruelty of people doesn't need technology, but it does help it.
What did you think of the episode?