Thursday, March 19, 2015

Ghost in the Shell

  I've always appreciated the animation of Ghost in the Shell more than the movie as a whole. It doesn't click with me. It never has. This time was no different, for the most part. Despite lots of bullets and blood, it's not a very action packed movie. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Instead, the movie is a bit more introspective. It has things to say about the path our society is on, and the line between man and machine. Unfortunately I don't find much of the movie all that engaging. Fortunately, it still has some impressive animation that is used to great effect in creating moods and visuals that extend far beyond each scene and reach right into you. There's a lot to love about Ghost in the Shell, but maybe even now after all these years... I'm still missing something?

  I don't need my anime to be super action packed in order to be entertained by it. I loved the sequel to Ghost in the Shell, it clicked with me more than this one did. I even felt the absence of Major Motoko. But you'd be forgiven for missing her in this one as well. She's almost a non-character for most of the movie. Her somber personality and stilted dialog render her largely inert except for a few key moments. She's not fun to be around. She's not even that interesting. Things happen to her that are interesting, her partners have the potential to be interesting, but she's not. She has issues and ideas that are engaging and worthy of screentime- if only they had any. She identifies as female, has a human brain, but a cyborg body that hasn't the capacity to menstruate. For all intents and purposes, it's a genderless body.

  Themes like that are only ever skirted around in the movie because the plot propels it forward at such a rate that I couldn't help but feel it was breezing right over all the interesting stuff. Fortunately, the "villain" of the movie is really interesting, but he's hardly in it save for a few scenes. I mean, there's a lot of interesting concepts and ideas in Ghost in the Shell but it doesn't have the runtime to accommodate them. I feel like the movie has a lot to say about personal identity, loss of identity, sexuality and how we define it. But again, you'd be forgiven to think the movie is simply about hackers, terrorists, and artificial intelligence. It's somehow about all of that and then some.

  I can't put my finger on it quite precisely but the things I wanted more of from Ghost in the Shell it didn't deliver. Even it's action scenes, of which I can't even really remember if there was more than one or two, aren't and can't be the selling point. There's one fantastic sequence that evolves from a chase, to a shootout, and finally ends up in a hand-to-hand showdown. This scene is great because it showcases the creativity and inventiveness the makers had. There's some dazzling stuff on display there. But these scenes are largely singular and contained. They are neat and exciting highlights of a movie very unconcerned with raw thrills or adrenaline fueled pacing. Thus, these scenes are bookended on either side by some really solemn and peaceful moments.

  Motoko is not unlike Neo from The Matrix. She's a one-note character, but the movie wouldn't work if she was any different. Those aforementioned peaceful moments have a lot to do with her nature and her personality. They reflect her thought process in many ways. Motoko frequently seems to have her mind somewhere else, contemplating deeper issues. Focusing on existential problems. This kind of thing is highlighted by a particular scene, among others, that seems to be a visual tour of the city as it rains. It's gloomy, dour, and stunningly atmospheric. It's also calm and relaxing. Something that most of this movie is not, but it's also a distinct mood that is evoked more than once for sure. It's in these scenes that I found myself deeply involved with the movie.

  Those quiet scenes of contemplation and reflection are the engaging stuff. The plot and story are deftly written and executed, but they fail to garner the level of interest that it's more somber scenes do. Only in the end do we see where the movie was taking us. It makes sense and is actually really interesting, if not outright thought provoking. The climax of the movie is almost emotionally moving in a way, but we remember that these characters have done nothing to earn my affection. It's been visual shorthand from the beginning. Should I be interested and care about these characters simply because the movie has us follow them around as they do what they do? Is there something larger at stake? We hardly care, so what does it matter? Unfortunately, the characters are just not given too much to do.

  They are not unlike pawns on a chessboard the movie is playing both sides of. They're shuffled about from one inert revelation to the next, allowing us glimpses of staggeringly impressive potential, but I hesitate to say that hardly any of that potential is ever fully realized. I'm well aware this movie has legions of hardcore fans who might actually jump at the chance to tear my review apart and shove my opinion down my throat. But I fail to see how so much ire can be mustered over characters so inert. Then again it's also entirely possible that I've missed the point of this movie. That because I don't "get it" it's failed to connect with me in any significant way. I like the movie. I feel that despite a lack of active interest, it ends up being... interesting.

    Undeniably, there is something about this movie that sticks with me. Something I'm waiting to pinpoint, because I haven't been able to so far. The movie has stuck with me, and in my head for years. That's important. Not many movies can really do that. It does speak volumes about the quality of the film in and of itself that despite my lukewarm reaction to it after two viewings, I'm willing to see it more times in the future. I've even bought it. It's a solid movie, but maybe undeserving of the excessive praise it gets. It seems to excel only in being exceptionally watchable, doing nothing to avoid the vague "something" preventing it from being anything that might stand out in my memory.

  It doesn't have the punch and energy to be a popcorn action flick nor is it emotional enough to resonate as the brainy drama it so desperately wants to be. It's a 'mood movie'. Much like Taxi Driver, or Equilibrium. It's strengths are in the meticulously crafted visual language it's honed in order to impart very specific feelings and moods to it's audience. It takes serious skill and craft to do that.
In closing, I reiterate that I believe the movie is more than the sum of it's parts. It manages to be a moody and dramatic sci-fi thriller that I can only hope gets better with each re-watch.

There is something in Ghost in the Shell that keeps me coming back for more, and I hope maybe I never find out what it is so I will always have an excuse to keep looking.

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