Review of San Junipero (Black Mirror Series 3 Episode 4), 2016.
This post won’t make much sense if you haven’t seen it.
The term ‘black mirror’ has come to mean a bleak, dystopian future caused by misuse of technology. Most episodes of the series contain dire warnings about worst-case scenarios.
San Junipero is one of the most popular episodes of Black Mirror because it explores the possibility of a utopian future. It’s also perfect, in my own peculiar sense that every scene is significant, clever and competently executed. This is writer Charlie Brooker at the top of his game.
You need to see it a second time to fully appreciate the perfection: the way Yorkie shudders at a crash in a car-racing game, the all-purpose dork from every 80s film, one that will do to start a scene or two. The way explanations are given naturally and only as required. It’s a triumph of story-telling.
In my opinion, most people love or hate the episode for superficial reasons. I hope to suggest more thoughtful reasons.
What I most appreciate is that it provides the strongest fictional case I’ve encountered for a post-faith world, one where advanced technology renders all traditions and morals moot.
Heaven and hell? Euthanasia? Irrelevant; we’ll just live forever in the cloud and create our own heaven. Race? Sexuality? Marriage? In our electronic afterlife, it all comes out in the wash.
“Ooh, baby, do you know what that’s worth?
Ooh, heaven is a place on Earth
They say in heaven love comes first
We’ll make heaven a place on Earth”
‘Heaven Is a Place on Earth’ by Belinda Carlisle, 1987
In the modern world, technology has already triumphed over some of life’s harsh realities, allowing new social norms to exist. One of the most notable is that reliable contraception has broken the nexus between sex and childbirth, thus undermining the traditional concept of marriage. Another is that mechanization has reduced the primacy of physical prowess and expanded sedentary jobs, which has reset relations between the sexes.
San Junipero takes this idea to its logical conclusion: with technology that can create a new world, there is no need for the mores of the old world. Those are requirements of meatspace, where actions have consequences. Take away death, reproduction, starvation, disease, aging and so on, and anything goes.
The chattering classes love the film because it hits the right buttons. Lesbians! Euthanasia! Strong black female lead! Boo religion! I think there were even some electric vehicles.
A minority hate the film for the same reasons.
Both are being unfair to the creator of the series.