Sunday, September 20, 2020

SF8: White Crow


Maybe it's because I'm not a gamer, I find movies, or series about gaming utterly boring. But here, the game was just a false (sic!) pretense to explore something else.

There is a famous quote from Friedrich Nietzsche: “I have done that', says my memory. I cannot have done that - says my pride and remains unshakeable. Finally - memory yields.” (from Beyond Good and Evil). This episode was almost an hour long iteration of this quote.

We start our journey with a gamer named JUNO, whose post-game interactions with fans and audience was sharply disturbed by a message saying she's a liar and faked her whole persona. JUNO vehemently denies the slander but her reputation is tarnished in a matter of a minute. This scene, and one later, show how easily people believe in rumors. All it takes is a faint scent of it and everyone just swims to the victim like sharks. It doesn't matter whether the rumor is true or not - it looks like everyone harbors some secret wish that the person we follow or admire has some dirty underbelly and the moment the crack appears, we gladly jump for blood. 

To fix her reputation and, what's even more important to people managing her, to fix the reputation of the company, JUNO agrees to play a new VR game that was developed along the psychological guidelines and is supposed to confront the player with their most difficult trauma, and in fact to heal. I know that some people in psychology thought that confrontational therapy works, but, personally, it shows that the majority of such field is just guesswork and wishful thinking.

JUNO enters the machine in front of a live audience and starts playing and her going through the game is visible for everyone. The machine is faulty, so we might expect that something is gonna go terribly wrong. And she's confronted with her younger self, in 2018 when she was a high school girl and a friend of Jang Jun-oh. Coincidence? Not likely, JUNO might send us to the Roman mythology, and the mythological link is even stronger when at the beginning of the game, the teacher in class tells the story of how ravens (not crows) got their black feather. Long story short - because of the lie.

The raven is a popular animal in mythology around the world, it's both the symbol of good and bad luck. It's associated with death, but also with beginning of life, it is a solar animal and also a chthonic one. The black ravens in the class that JUNO sees (actually classmates with raven heads) serve as both the symbol of lies that shroud our main character and also as harbingers of death. They demand the truth. They are ruthless. And the truth is uncomfortable for JUNO, whose real name is Baek Ah-jeong.

  The game takes her deeper and deeper and demands to face her lies that lead to the suicide of her friend. She copied the essay of Jang Jun-oh but that was only the beginning. She was set out to destroy the girl from the start - she befriended her, they started to wear similar clothes and hang around more often. Similar motif can be found in movies like The Perfect Tenant (2000) or even better, as an example, not plot-wise, Single White Female (1992) - of taking the identity and plotting revenge.

Ah-jeong, when confronted by the teacher over the uncanny similarities between her essay and that of Jun-oh, starts to lie. She lies to the teacher and she lies to Jun-oh. And in an attempt to discredit Jun-oh credibility, she starts spreading nasty rumors - that she's a crazy sex-maniac, that she lies, that she's fake etc. And of course, as always, no one checks if there is any grain of truth in it, but everyone jumps on the hate wagon and Jun-oh is bullied to the point of committing suicide. And this is the deeply buried thorn in Ah-jeong's consciousness, even though she does whatever she can to erase it.

And the game took a toll - the faulty machines cause a fire and Ah-jeong ended up in a coma, with her remnants of consciousness continuing the deception. When faced by Shin Jisu, sent as a guide, she refuses to admit to the lies. She learns the life support she's on will be turned off in 24 hours so she has the time to admit to her wrongdoings and her mind will be able to break out from the poisonous circle of the past, and therefore she will be able to give signals of brain activity and life, perhaps even coming out of coma.And this episode ends with a twist on every redemption story - Ah-jeong refuses till the very end, even faced with death. She's remorseful of course that she caused Jun-oh's death and suffering, but as she says, she'd rather die as successful JUNO than a liar Ah-jeong. Her jump to eternity ends with the machine flatlining from the background. The moment the machine stops, her white feathers turn ashen. Not a subtle nod to the myth narrated during the class, but a very proper and nice coda.

This was an emotional episode, meandering through some heavy topics, like bullying, online hate and spreading rumors, and people's responsibility for other's death. And also lies, because living in the cocoon of lies can make life easier even though the whole world around is suffering. And it also spoke the truth, repeating what Nietzsche said - often our memory has to yield. People create more favorable image of themselves, whitewash the unpleasant memories, augment their achievements or take achievements of others (like idols) as theirs, so they can flaunt as if they'd discovered the treatment for all cancer. Sometimes they start believing in the persona they created, and become as brittle as glass and they fall apart easily.

Also I like the poster - the shape of the chair does look like an avian skull.