What is reality? Is it the things we see? The ability to touch something? Do you have to smell or taste it? If we believe what our senses tell us, then reality is the manifestation of those sensory inputs. With the proliferation of screens and technology, a few of these senses might be tricked into thinking that something is real when it is merely a simulation. All of our senses have the ability to be fooled, but if we’re oblivious to it, our perception of reality will remain unchanged. Similarly, if we know something is a simulation, we are likely to take more risks because we know the consequences are limited. We place such an inherent trust in reality that when our trust is broken, our minds have a difficult time processing it. This week’s two films highlight the dangers of simulation and the price that is paid for replacing reality.
Length: 114 minutes / 1.9 hours
Perhaps the best example of the simulation/reality dichotomy is that of the Matrix franchise. At the start of The Matrix (1999), Neo (Keanu Reeves) finds out that everything he’s ever known has essentially been a dream inputted directly into his brain by post-apocalyptic machines. It takes some time, but once he realizes the Matrix is a simulation, Neo evolves to a point where he can control the physics of it. By The Matrix Reloaded (2003), he has mastered the simulation of the Matrix, but is now also limited by the reality of the real world. When it comes right down to it, Neo’s acceptance of the simulation allowed him to break the barriers that would normally be placed upon him in the real world. Of course, the simulation of Ender’s Game (2013) is a little different, as it was put in place to protect the savior of the human race from the startling reality of war.
Andrew “Ender” Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) attracts the attention of Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) due to his aptitude in simulated space combat. Ender shows that he knows how to play the game and will win at all costs, which leads Colonel Graff to send the child to a Battle School in outer space. While there, Ender continues to show his technological dominance while also quickly developing strategy skills to use in a zero-gravity training room. In his spare time, he plays a game set in a fictional world that is meant to test his mental strength. Having arrived at the top of his class, Ender is taken to the battlefront and given the task to complete war-time simulations between the enemy Formics and the united forces of Earth. While he has some losses, he does eventually win his way to the final level: a battle at the Formics’ home planet. Only after his victory does he learn the horrifying truth.
The Truman Show
Length: 103 minutes / 1.72 hours
Technology has always been a vehicle for simulation, but it will always have its limitations. From the visual obstacle of the “uncanny valley” to the difficult-to-replicate smells of our daily lives, sometimes the best simulation for reality is reality itself. Many technological simulations must rely on peripherals like screens and speakers to convey its version of reality, but if these output devices aren’t needed, then the simulation imitates life just that much better. Just like a play on a stage will evoke a greater sense of reality than a movie on a screen, the amount of freedom we are given as observers to notice the minutia away from the primary action merely enhances the simulation. But what if someone went so far as to create an entire simulation around a single individual? An entire world would need to be created in order to accurately simulate this person’s life.
The simulated world of Seahaven was created to house the single, unsuspecting subject of a long-running television show: Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey). Behind the curtain of this literal reality show is Christof (Ed Harris), the creator of the ambitious project to use Truman’s life as the basis of an un-scripted television phenomenon. However, the artifice of Seahaven cannot last forever. Now in its 30th year, “The Truman Show” is close to its series finale when Truman starts discovering cracks in the façade of his simulated world. The only thing keeping him on the island is the fear of water implanted in him from a fabricated story about the death of his father. Once he realizes that the entire world revolves around him, he finally builds up enough courage to take sail and leave Seahaven. Despite Christof’s best efforts, Truman arrives at the edge of the world: a painted backdrop with a single exit door.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 suspect simulations