From its beginning science fiction has served as a lens through which technological anxieties can be viewed: Godzilla and Superman rising from atomic dust, robot lovers who make viewers question the uniqueness of human life, extractivism’s thrilling and twisted march beyond the solar system. The genre’s most original narratives banish these fears through catharsis. Humanity has outsmarted the kaiju; science cures the escaping infection. Of all modern worries, the gap between our internet selves and real life may be the most slippery thing yet to be folded into dramatic arcs of science fiction. Yet somehow, over the past six months, cinema has exploded with the type of film that is arguably best suited to contain its unwieldy contours: the multiverse film.
It is somewhat surprising that such a successful incarnation of the Internet took so long. Of course, there have been other attempts; movies from Throne to hackers to Ralph Breaks the Internet tried to visualize entering cyberworlds where data balls travel through candy-colored networks. But what these films illustrate is desire metaverseand not our real experience of how it is feels live an internet-enhanced life.
The problem, from a storytelling point of view, is that once you take away the fantasy element of going through the looking glass/screen, there isn’t much left to play. The experience is mental, not visual or physical. The Internet is explosive and revolutionary, but the life experience of being online is a kind of oversaturated burden – how do you make a story out of a scroll? Watching someone type or click on a smartphone is not fun; creating multiple worlds that mimic the various pockets of the social network.
The multiverse, like the Internet, is not exciting, but expanding. The multiverse theory states that there are an infinite number of universes in which any and all combinations of possibilities play out. In such films All Everywhere All at once, Spiderman: No Way Homeand last week Doctor Strange in the multiverse of madnessthe multiverse is not so much a representation of limitless combinations of chances, but rather of the fragmentation and potential of the individual and society.
Take, for example, Evelyn, the main character Everything is everywhere. She is bitter, distracted, and unable to enjoy her family or her life as she spends all her brain’s RAM trying to keep her business going through her tax audit. But when Alpha Waymond, her husband from another universe, bursts into her life, she meets all the people she could have been had she made a different choice. If she had stayed at home in China instead of emigrating to America with her husband, she could have become a kung fu master and a movie star. In another life, a cook. In another, a woman with hot dogs for fingers enjoys a turbulent lesbian relationship. Deep fear is confirmed. “You are the most boring Evelyn,” explains Alpha Waymond.
Is there anything more heartbreaking in this earthly life than knowing or suspecting that you were just one chance encounter, one bold decision that kept you from being better, richer, more experienced, more loved, less alone? Maybe if you hadn’t hit your head this way as a child, you would have been a child prodigy. We spend a long childhood wondering if we’re going to be beautiful, smart, or popular. Then there are years when everything is in your hands, but it seems that much has already been decided; the window closes—quickly, and then it’s all over. And then it will really end.
Like that verse-jumping device Evelyn uses to penetrate herself, the Internet is a sort of fortune-telling glass. In the lives of others, so exaggerated, petty and measured, we see paths that have not been traveled, experiences that have not been lived. But the Internet is more than a depressing video feed of other people’s parties. Whether through curiosity and the blessing of anonymity, alternate accounts, or just a total lack of norms, the Internet is also a place to take advantage of all sorts of opportunities, shape yourself outside of your current physical circumstances – a lesson Evelyn learns as she taps into the skills of her other personalities. to fend off bad guys with butt plugs and Benihana knife skills.
But these are only the advantages of studying your personality on the Internet. All this anonymity can also turn heroes into monsters. Peter Parker finds out about this in the first four minutes of the game. Spiderman: No Way Home when he is accused of murder in a misleading video posted by an expert with a huge platform. (No wonder he turns out to be just a guy with a ring light and a green screen.) Peter gets canceled, which is worse than death, because now he and his friends can’t go to college. Although his girlfriend MJ says he has no regrets, Peter is “trying to live two different lives,” as his aunt explains it, and he can’t handle it. The gap between the real Peter and the guy the internet knows is just too exhausting.
When the line between public and private is blurred or completely destroyed, there is a need to abandon the private and public self in order to take possession of the personality, which can cross many different spheres, while maintaining close attention. It’s complicated. Like Evelyn in All, there is a deep desire to “return to the way things were.” For Peter, this means the time when he had a personal “I”; for Evelyn the simplest times of her youth. Instead, both characters are bursting at the seams as they face an onslaught of enemies: vicious enemies driven by motives foreign to our protagonists’ worlds. Isn’t it an internet nightmare that we’re saying private things in a weird semi-public space and being judged by strangers who don’t know our context or intentions?
The multiverse narrative played out in these films ultimately strives for integrity. While fragmentation must first be acknowledged and even glorified, the leap between worlds and selves is not a sustainable state. Peter and Evelyn both find this elusive wholeness that All likened to enlightenment, not only in that they embrace a whole range of selves, but also in that they accept their enemies. In a moment that makes entire theaters cry, Evelyn’s husband pleads with her. “I know you’re a fighter,” he says, but asks her to drop her defensive stance. “The only thing I know is that we should be kind. Please be kind, especially when we don’t know what’s going on.” Both Evelyn and Peter understand that protecting themselves and the people they love means treating their enemies with compassion. It’s all good when you watch superheroes and fantasy villains fight on screen, but it’s different when you’re facing inhuman attacks online.
Evelyn and Peter have powers. Their concern for their enemies literally turns the enemies into other people, people who no longer threaten them. It is depressing and even condescending to hear that the reason ideologues such as transphobes, anti-abortion activists and garden trolls have not given up on their plans is because they have not been treated with enough sympathy, that people who fear for their the rights are too mean.
Resetting protection in real life can be life-threatening, resetting it online is to feel that since you are no longer protecting your identity, you must think that it is not worth protecting. To feel safe and empathetic online, we will need to take advantage of the Internet’s unique characteristics, such as experimentation, community organizing, access to limitless knowledge, and a constant drive to share, to shape new ways of celebrating and supporting our diversity. It is in this spirit that we could take seriously the lesson of the multiverse as internet movies. We are all traveling from different worlds, all strangers to each other, and we might as well say when we meet: I come in peace.
Credit: www.wired.com /