This article contains minor spoilers — nothing you wouldn’t see from a trailer.
Netflix has recently released “Altered Carbon,” a show starring Joel Kinnaman, set in a sort of dystopian future where minds are stored on small devices embedded in everyone’s necks. When they die, the device can be transferred from one body to the next — people can live forever, hopping from body to body, so long as the small device is never destroyed. One shot through the neck (and through the device), and that person is toast.
The show brings up some inherent questions regarding the nature of life and death. A religious movement in the story believes that the soul is inherently tied to the body, and that playing God and living forever is unnatural and sinful. The rich have the best bodies, and some can even afford wireless storage so, even if their device gets destroyed, they never die. These themes and ideas are played with in all sorts of creative ways, backed up by an exciting mystery and some awesome action.
The show is excellent, and if you don’t mind gratuitous violence and some explicit sex scenes within a “Blade Runner”-type universe and detective story, it might just be for you.
For some reason, the show’s themes reminded me of Lieutenant Speirs from “Band of Brothers,” and his speech to a terrified Private Blithe.
When I first heard Speirs’ speech, I found it pretty depressing. A lack of hope is pretty a pretty bleak outcome for anyone who wants to have a life outside of a war. However, the key phrase in this (as I found after my experiences in Afghanistan) is “the only hope you have is to accept the fact that you are already dead, and the sooner you accept that, the sooner you’ll be able to function as a soldier is supposed to function.”
I mean, I’m still not entirely sold by his speech in its entirety. I suppose I am more of an idealist than Speirs, but I do relate to the major concept he’s conveying. In a war you have to embrace your own death … you have to accept the fact that your body is forfeit. The mission comes first and the soldiers at your shoulder come second — your own safety has to be pretty far down the line. If the men and women fighting next to you came first, you wouldn’t be out on the mission at all. If your own safety came first, then nothing would get done and though you might survive, others would not and the world becomes a darker place because of your inaction. You can just hope that the soldiers to your left and right feel the same way, and that they put your safety far above their own — I never had any doubt alongside the majority of those with whom I served.
So you die to yourself, to your own wants and desires, and you do what needs to be done.
I value my own life. But I also value death — while we are at no risk of living forever, death to self is of utmost importance. I’m not talking suicide, in fact what I’m talking about also requires the inherent value in life as well. However, once we die to ourselves, our hubris, and our audacity to suggest that we are the most important thing in the universe — only then can we actually look outside ourselves and into the world .
I am also reminded of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Silmarillion” that catalogs the history of the “Lord of the Rings” universe — from the world’s creation to the conflicts between good and evil thereafter. In this universe, Elves live forever unless they are killed. Men, however, are given the “Gift of Men” — death, or mortality. While the devil character (Morgoth) instills fear and terror regarding death into the hearts of men, it was always intended as a gift; a rest from the sorrows of the world and a way to be at peace, as they would travel to the “white shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.” Death is also one of the reasons why men accomplish so much in so little time compared to the other races in the world, as they know they have less time to do things.
“Altered Carbon” tackles these themes, also symbolizing them through a physical life and death, just through the science fiction medium. Those who live longer and longer, self obsessed in their ivory towers, far above the scraping muck of the real world, are very much alive in body but dead in the soul. Eternal life means eternal death.
Featured image courtesy of Netflix. Video courtesy of HBO via YouTube.