[This post will spoil you. Watch The Sky Crawlers first, (I recommend it!) then read this post]
Humans cannot deal with perfection, in this case, peace. Just as the copper-tops, the living batteries that power the mechanized dystopia of The Matrix cannot be placated by an utopian dream and require a narrative of rebellion and conflict, the humans in Mamoru Oshii’s Sky Crawlers cannot have a perfect peace. If the machine overlords in The Matrix created a messiah program much the same way the Anti-Spirals maintained a Spiral Champion program in the world of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, there is a program to maintain equilibrium in the world of Sky Crawlers. In this case though, it is self-inflicted.
The narrative complex of the film postulates that war must happen, conflict must happen, somehow, somewhere. This is what will maintain the peace of the prosperous. In Sky Crawlers, the business of war have been outsourced to corporations.
First, a false hope:
Even on the same old road, you can tread on new ground. Even on the same old road, the scenery isn’t the same. Can’t things just be that way? Or is it no good, because that’s all it is?
Since the war, the violence itself is a program, it has rules; and one of these rules is the implementation of an undefeatable enemy. In this case, an ace — whose plane’s fuselage is decorated by a black panther.
Among these rules are a set that governs the use of corporate assets — including the skillset of its pilots and personnel. The corporations use humans called Kildren, who are in some way like automatons. They are somewhat programmed to forever stay in the present, to exist only to fight — genetically designed to live eternally in adolescence until shot down in an air battle or an “Air Show” to be presented commercially as a peacetime entertainment, for which they are reproduced. Part of their personality modification is due to whatever identity they were born with, they share with that of — in some minor way of the deceased pilot they replaced. This is how the corporation re-deploys their intellectual property: the skill and talent of their pilots.
This way they maintain the endless war, the same fighters fight the same dogfights to maintain the equilibrium. This is where we find our protagonists, playing out their lives as avatars of fighting heroes, of death gods.
Where Chekov trades his gun for a newspaper [->]
It is an upsetting presentation of reincarnation. You are not alone. Your identity is subordinate to that of the warrior that lives through your movements. The skills you have are not your own. Your preferences are not your own. Your habits and tendencies, your decisions and desires, all are accountable to you and yet never wholly yours. And since your memories blur in the haze of weak recollection, the love you remember, the childhood, the firsts of firsts — all disappear, or matter not.
And this is in some way an ideal. Forever coming-of-age, you are forever in the present. Your movements are pure and done ‘with no mind.’ Your ego isn’t entirely yours, why hold on to it? You are here to fight. And you fight your pointless orgy of fighting. Is this a Samsara too? It is Valhalla on Earth. But you choose to behold it as the illusion. You fight the program on its own terms.
The way to freedom in Sky Crawlers is simpler compared to The Matrix. Just as in TTGL Simon need only destroy the Anti Spirals, Kannami need only defeat the unbeatable Black Panther, the Teacher — the Ace of the rival corporation. What I find very impressive about this movie is that it doesn’t spell it out at all. The plan isn’t that well-thought-out. I feel that it would have to be if it had any chance of working. To not explain the mechanics of success would be remiss on the part of the narrative.
The fact that it was doomed, the program wins, for it is a good program. There is no enemy. The wars are for the good of humanity. Humans made this program. This is for peace, this is for the best. A conflict existed all of a sudden — when I start rooting for the individuals for the sake of not so much their freedom, but for the possibility of a love story. Suito has a daughter. I want a future for her that isn’t weird. Soon enough she will age while her mother remains the same. She will never die unless the Teahcer kills her, or the next avatar of her doomed love.
I mention conflict because I am rooting against my own interests. I am human. This program exists to preserve the utopia that I live in (assuming I am part of this narrative). While there is no indication that Kannami breaking the rules of the program will result in the breakdown of the whole thing, I’m not interested in risking utopia for the sake of the loves of avatars. But Sky Crawlers succeeded in making me care for these characters, slowly and carefully, and sometimes painstakingly. Everybody plays their role in the program, making them doomed and sad, sympathetic because there is little trace of bitterness and cynicism.
The aircraft have limited fuel capacity, and therefore limited flight duration. This is very useful to know when to stop waiting for Godot. Stand the rescue team down, we know when a bird isn’t going to come back. Humanity wins, and the greater peace is preserved. Um, yay?
Valhalla, should be called GARhalla by now [->]
Samsara, where you disabuse all happily ever afters (why not happy now and forever after?) [->]
Perhaps Kannami, need only reflect and see that liberation is not the disruption of Samsara, but the achievement of Moksha. Sisyphus has his boulder, humans have Windows Vista, and Suito has the avatars of her doomed loves. However, like Camus I choose to see Sisyphus as a happy man, and so I choose to see Suito finding her Moksha through acceptance. She’s doesn’t know how good she’s got it: smoking packs of cigarettes with no consequences to her health. This too is Heaven on Earth.
The world continues with this review [->]