The Cabinet of Dr Caligari

Perspective has been the occasional plaything of Sci-Fi since the birth of the genre but, of late, malleable realities have become much more prevalent. Take Blade Runner and Under the Skin as easy points of reference with both having a single eye staring out of the cinema screen in their opening scenes. In the former, it appears to represent a window into an undefined soul – not necessarily that of a human being. In the latter, a definition of sexual objectification that should have been targeted towards the male victims of Scarlet Johansson’s alien entity but, instead, lingers far too often on her own nakedness throughout. In both, though, perceived realities examined and interrogated. Le Congress (2014), Inception (2010), Paprika (2006), The Matrix (1999)… The list of perception bending titles is vast and stretches back beyond film to the novel in its earliest form.

Against such a fertile backdrop, you’d think that the current shift towards digital virtual realities (VR) would have an easy ride of it with consumers. Not the case. The voices of caution and dissent are becoming more vocal in opposition to technology companies desperate to see expansion and growth into this latest market. While Mark Zuckerberg may be proposing that, “One day, we believe this kind of immersive, augmented reality will become a part of daily life for billions of people.” In contrast, the detractors can’t get beyond the multifarious platforms or the sheer cost of each device.

There is hope for technophiles, though, as the zeitgeist promises to tip in their favour. Steven Spielberg has just announced that he’ll be casting the relatively unknown Tye Sheridan as the lead in the screen adaptation of Ernest Clien’s Ready Player One. Whether the actor will be chunking out to represent Wade Owen Watts in his pre-haptic suit days is yet to been seen but, as this is Hollywood, we’re reckoning probably not. Hopefully the sanitisation of the story won’t steer too far away from the difficult topic of the hikikomori and the social isolation that our currently fully connected lives can produce.

As ever, and as we’ve said numerous times here on this site, Sci-Fi isn’t a road map. It’s more a laboratory, a space for thought experiments that look at both the wildly optimistic and the cautionary in any postulated future. While we may well have increasing opportunities to see “things you people wouldn’t believe”, it’s essential that we be aware these new vistas could well come at a price.

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