Kelly, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, left, and Yorkie, played by Mackenzie Davis, in “San Junipero”, episode 4, season 3 of “Black Mirror”.( Image Source: Nerdist)
I cried when I watched the “San Junipero” episode of Netflix’s “Black Mirror”. Whenever someone tells me they’re going to watch the series, I tell them to look out for it in the midst of their streaming binge. I can’t quite articulate what gets to me so much about it, and I don’t want to ramble on trying to here. So if I’d have to make a quick statement, it’s the treatment of death and the afterlife… and the deepest hopes we have for it. I cry similarly at parts of “Inception“, watching Marion Cotillard’s Mal become so engrossed with the dream world- a place of love, happiness and no pain- that she never wants to live in the real.
But the premise of “San Junipero” is very much unlike “Inception”, and without going into too many of the details of the plot, I’ll just highlight what relates to this post. SPOILERS AHEAD.
From the Wikipedia entry on “San Junipero“:
In the present-day real world of the 2040s, the consciousnesses of the dead or dying can be uploaded into a simulated reality system, where they can live in the fantasy town of San Junipero as their younger selves forever.
Living people can visit San Junipero for trial periods but are limited to five hours a week. An elderly Kelly (Denise Burse) lives in an assisted living facility, dying of cancer. She goes to visit the real-world Yorkie, who is a completely paralyzed woman surviving via life support. Yorkie became paralyzed over 40 years earlier when her parents rejected her for being a lesbian and she consequently ran her car off the road.
The technology for San Junipero is relatively recent and has now given Yorkie a chance to live a full life again; her plan is to be euthanized and spend her afterlife inside the virtual reality system: a technological process called “passing over”. Because her family has religious objections to signing the papers allowing her to be unplugged from life support, she plans on legally marrying Greg, her nurse, so that he may officially override their authority. Upon learning of this, Kelly spontaneously requests a few minutes’ visit with Yorkie in San Junipero, where she proposes marriage in Greg’s stead, and Yorkie enthusiastically accepts. They wed, and Kelly then authorizes Yorkie’s euthanasia, which takes place a few hours after the wedding.
Yorkie passes over happily into San Junipero but is frustrated that Kelly is only able to join her for five hours per week. She asks Kelly to join her full-time in the afterlife, but Kelly rejects this. Kelly’s plan is to die without being uploaded to the San Junipero system, as her beloved husband chose to do after 49 years of marriage, himself ruined by the premature death of their adult daughter who never had a chance to be uploaded.
It’s that last part that gives me pause. In “San Junipero”, she is offered a heaven of sorts… sorts because it’s just a simulation. A simulation that will never include her daughter Alison or husband of nearly half a century, Richard. In the most dramatic scene, Kelly refers to San Junipero as a “graveyard” and as a place to “spend forever… where nothing matters.”
Now I’m sure some readers are quietly asking “Um, but you’re a Christian and none of this has anything to do with the Bible.” Or maybe they never got past that excerpt above when they realized the two pretty protagonists are queer… Well, if you’re still here, cool. I’m going to ask you a serious question: can you imagine living forever in paradise without the people you love most, knowing you will NEVER be with them again? We imagine all things made perfect; without your Richard or Alison, will the afterlife be perfect for you?