There are 6m postcodes in London, what's happening in yours?
Published February 14th 2013
Each time you select a song on your iPod, send a text message or look up the price of gold, you look into a Black Mirror. Only here, you can manipulate the image looking back at you. Charlie Brooker's dystopian satirical drama series returns to hold a mirror up to unnature in the first of three dramas that explore the darker aspects of the digital age.
Image from Wikipedia
Be Right Back is the story of a young professional couple, Martha and Ash, starting a new life. Ash is killed in a road accident and a friend introduces her to a website where you can literally speak to the dead based on their internet usage. Martha's disgust and gives way to acceptance when she is invited, much in the manner of Linked In, to log onto the website. Here, Brooker raises some interesting questions. If we can simulate a life, does this make us necrophiliacs if we simulate the lives of the dead? They no longer exist, except in a digitally simulated form, but Martha interacts with Ash's internet footprint as if Ash was alive.
In one scene, Martha is taking a walk in the countryside with her mobile phone and the simulation of Ash is shown the view of what I think were the Downs over Martha's phone. Martha pointed out that Ash dismissed The Grand Canyon as "a big gap", which the simulacra overlooked when Ash's simulation was taken aback by the beauty of the place.
Even when Ash's online self mentions a suicide spot was a lovers leap in life, correcting himself by saying it was only single people who jumped to their deaths (in death), shows how simulated life differs from the real. Brooker uses these to provide subtle misgivings, which are a projection of Martha's guilt and a method Brooker uses to build his critique of the technology's sinister applications as well as Martha's internal conflict.
What do you see when you look into the Black Mirror? Do you see the inmost part of you?
What I really found riveting was when the simulation is taken to the next level, beyond the digital and into the cyborg stage. This was Brooker's setting up the sting in the tale, which reaches its dark denouement when he called Martha his "administrator". We can see how he is just a simulation when he says he can go no further than 25 metres away from his activation point, the bath.
Brooker asks you whether we have an ability to grieve over an artificial human companion that is a simulation of a loved one. Are they just a commodity or to be treated equally as a person, even though they aren't of biological origin? Martha takes this simulation of Ash to Beachy Head, where (ironically) people commit suicide, when she realises the simulacra's limitations: "You aren't you! You are just ripples of you..." She tells him to jump, which shows that the simularcra has its shortcomings over the original Ash. The virtual version lacks the real life experiences that constructed him, but also address himself in the third person when he said that he had no suicidal ideation. He may be just surface; even down to the absence of a mole on his collarbone, his "skin" is just textural mapping.
Shot with muted colours contributing to a heavy, pensive atmosphere, and enhanced by the fairly minimalist dialogue reminiscent of Scandinavian dramas on BBC Four, this gives the dystopia Brooker sets up its subtle menace that pervades the lives of the characters, in the same way the technology pervades ours (at least in the first world). This obscures the fact the play is a satirical comedy, a very surreal and twisted one even; twisted enough to show the influence of Chris Morris, especially shows like Jam and Nathan Barley (the latter both of whom collaborated on).
The jokes were obscured by the dark plot and premise, but this doesn't mean it should be played for out and out laughs. The surreal nature of the story and the idea of simulacra of a loved one, a copy for which there is no original, is too disturbing for belly laughs and there are too many questions around whether this is an acceptable application of the new digital technologies. You can see this when Martha and Ash's simulation are in bed and she tells him to breathe, saying "it's eerie" that he doesn't. His chest doesn't rise. That said, I do think that the humour could have been clearer, as in Jam.
While it's plausible, the future hasn't yet been programmed. It's possible that what you've seen may not come true, but remember the next time you download a post cast or an MP3 - when you look into the black mirror, the black mirror looks into you.