Forever Young? Black Mirror’s “San Junipero”
Living on the Edge of Escapism
Spoilers for the Black Mirror episode “San Junipero” ahed.
If there’s one episode in Black Mirror’s third season that still sticks with me, it’s “San Junipero”. It stands out for a variety of reasons, like the stellar performances and captivating visuals. Plus, the fact that it has an optimistic ending, which is unusual for such a foreboding series.
But is it really a happy ending?
In a series where most episodes end on a sour note, “San Junipero” was a breath of fresh air. It presents us with a different view of afterlife. A technologically augmented Neverland in which your consciousness is stored in a giant a server.
Even though Black Mirror is skeptical of future technology, it doesn’t state that technology is inherently bad. Rather, it highlights the possibilities of new technology and asks us questions of a both moral and ethical nature.
The techno-paranoia series works best when providing an optimistic vision of the future.filmschoolrejects.com
Although some have interpreted the ending as happy (like Film School Rejects’ Max Covill above), I’d argue that it’s a bittersweet one.
While the episode ends with Kelly and Yorkie cruising happily ever after to the sound of Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven Is a Place on Earth”, it’s hard not to think of what would happen afterwards.
Sure, being in a virtual afterlife with a loved one wouldn’t be that bad. But this couple is honeymooning indefinitely.
San Junipero is a place where they can escape oppressive parents and live without the traditional notions that tied them down in their younger years. Kelly just wants to have a good time before she dies. She has made up her mind — when it’s time to die, she’ll die — just like her husband.
But then, Yorkie comes along.
For Yorkie, San Junipero is not just a hedonistic retreat. Rather, it’s a place where she can live the life she never had. She can continue where she left and be 21 forever and ever.
For what is the ultimate form of escapism? Is it escape from the mundanity of everyday life, or from the everlasting boredom of death?
When Kelly smashes the mirror at the club, she doesn’t bleed and the mirror repairs itself. The illusion of the world is revealed. San Junipero is an artificial construction, a false reflection. And when Kelly smokes a cigarette, she notes that it “doesn’t even taste of anything.”
During the episode’s climactic moment, Yorkie insists that “this is real,” while Kelly calls it “a fucking graveyard”.
If heaven really is a place on earth, does it include a virtual afterlife?
Even if we reject the concept of an afterlife, could a virtual place such as San Junipero be considered one? It might not support the traditional view of the afterlife, but it would be a life after this one.
Kelly: “Scheduled to pass.” Let’s just call it dying.
Greg: If you can call it dying.
Kelly: Uploaded to the cloud, sounds like heaven.
Greg: I guess.
The question that the episode raises, however, is what kind of a life it would be. Kelly asks Yorkie scornfully if she wants to “spend forever somewhere nothing matters.”
After the credits have rolled, would we live happily ever after in Neverland? Or would we get lost in the hedonistic hole of the Quagmire, reveling only to feel something?