“Ghost In The Shell” is a masterwork of a film. While probably not for everyone’s taste it joins 2013’s “Pacific Rim” and 2014’s “Godzilla” in very successfully adapting very Japanese source material for western audiences, but not sacrificing anything essential to the material in the effort – 1998’s fully americanized “Godzilla” being the classic example of too much westernizing of such material. “Ghost In The Shell” is a visual feast on the lines of Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” and Luc Besson’s “The Fifth Element” – fully capturing, and even improving, the startling look of its source material. It even takes a page from the Marvel movies and on occasion thrills us with exact matches of comic panels or cartoon shots in the source material. But despite all these comparisons it is a work alone.
“Ghost In The Shell” has been compared most with “Blade Runner” and appropriately so as it asks the same essential question – “What does it mean to be human?” The westernizing of the material is in the answer that it gives, and that answer is also where it departs the most from “Blade Runner.” “Blade Runner” answers the question with a dismal shrug of the shoulders and a “It is what you make of it.” “Ghost In The Shell” ends on a very hopeful note defining our humanity on the basis of our relationships.
As I have written about before, the most meaningful book I have read in the last few years is “Dementia: Living in the Memories of God,” a theological tome which spends its first half developing a theological argument to define humanity in essentially the same way – by our relationships. This is a definition that most people want to reject instinctively because it grants so much seeming control over our humanity to someone else, yet it is the only workable definition when the self is somehow compromised. And let’s be honest, the self is always somehow compromised. Whether it’s in the mundane like our own pettiness or the mental challenges of dementia or the bio-mechanical “enhancements” of “Ghost In The Shell” (or artificial joints or smart phones welded to our hands) the self is always in question and compromise. But when we are fully compromised in some fashion, whether dementia or “full body cybernetic replacement” as in the movie, our humanity is preserved by those that love us.
This is a deeply Christian idea. It is no accident that the two greatest commandments identified by Jesus are about relationship:
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
These two are not about diet or ethics or morality or worship practice -they are about relationship. We discover our essential humanity in our relationships and that humanity is preserved, regardless of circumstance, by those that love us. The consequence of this idea should be obvious when it comes to caring for those that suffer with dementia – people we too often deprive of their humanity based on their handicap when it is in fact our job to preserve their humanity in their handicap. But the consequences are just as deep, and just as important, in places where they may be less obvious.
In political debates when, rather than argue the issue at hand, we turn to derision or dismissal we deny our debate opponent of their humanity. Insult, condescension and snark are no substitute for argument, but this is not simply a matter of style, taste or rhetoric. When that is what you practice routinely you begin to view your opponent in less than human terms, and it becomes far too easy to begin to treat them is less than human ways. From this very phenomena has flowed some of the greatest atrocities of human history.
It is possible to be friends with someone when you debate them on issues even if you disagree. But when it turns personal in insult and condescension the relationship is harmed, and then humanity begins to ebb. When I consider the state of our nation today, this phenomena is so evident. If I did not rest myself daily in the arms of the Almighty it would be frightening.
Our humanity is derived not from ourselves but from the God that loves us and the people that He gives to us to love us. He calls us to love others to grant them their humanity. We can do not less.