Not because she’s the most talented, or because she’s been in the best films, but because she routinely takes on the kind of roles that fall somewhere between human and inhuman. In an age where the standard definition of seems increasingly undermined by technology, Johansson has found a way to embody and even allay our fears.
She’s been a sentient smartphone in Her, a clone in The Island, a lost alien in Under the Skin, a woman on smart drugs in Lucy, and a biotechnologically-enhanced supersoldier in the Avengers films. It makes sense then that Johansson was cast as the lead in Ghost in the Shell, about a law enforcement agent who’s partly robotic.
Set in a futuristic Japanese city, The Major (Johansson) works with her intelligence department, Section 9, to combat hackers and terrorists. Section 9’s latest focus is a mysterious saboteur targeting the world’s chief manufacturer of artificial intelligence robotics. During her investigations, The Major comes to discover that this villain’s agenda intimately involves her, and might force her to question what she knows about her identity.
It’s this question of identity that is central to the original Ghost in the Shell film, a 1995 Japanese anime that made up for its poor pacing and overtly sexualised heroine by giving its examination of human consciousness genuine depth and mystery. The remake improves the plotting and tones down the leering (despite Johansson spending a lot of time in a snug, nude-coloured body suit), but it also provides easy answers to the original’s questions.
Like Her and even the ridiculous Lucy, the original Ghost was willing to go down the philosophical rabbit hole, imagining a post-human future. The 2017 version is far more conservative, with its comforting confirmation that it’s possibly to remain securely human even when your brain can be hacked like a computer.
Johansson is key to the way the film soothes its audience. Her chilly little smile and level gaze has something cybernetic about it, but she’s also a very earthy presence, a sensual Old Master painting come to life. No matter how alien the characters she plays, she inevitably gives them a reassuring humanity; Ghost’s The Major is never as uncanny as Michael Fassbender in Prometheus or Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina.
Despite this, and the other ways in which it dilutes the strange power of the original, Ghost in the Shell still holds on to a few interesting ideas. But if you find it tiresome that these ideas are so often acted out by pneumatically-breasted robo-women holding handguns (see also Westworld), then watch Charlie Kaufman’s animation Anomalisa instead. Sometimes the best way to question reality is through the mundanely real.
Read our guide to Ghost in the Shell here.
|Ghost in the Shell film review
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31 Mar 17 – 31 May 17, Times Vary
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