Not Self/less Enough.

thatasianlookingchick.com-SelfLess_movie

 

 

You know how it is when you’re terminally ill and someone slips you a business card offering help, and, despite all the medical expertise your bottomless fortune could buy at the most prestigious of world-class medical facilities, you call the number, thinking that going rogue with your healthcare might resolve your mortality crisis… and if it doesn’t, you have nothing to lose, anyway?

That story.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went with Callaghan and two friends to see the newly released sci-fi action-thriller Self/less (directed by Tarsem Singh) on Saturday, but I’d seen the trailer, and I was intrigued. Though it’s been nearly 20 years since my college metaphysics class, my copy of John Perry’s A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality (1978) still occupies a sliver on my bookshelf, and it was partly because of this pamphlet-size book (required reading for the course I needed to complete my philosophy minor) that I wanted to see Self/less.

 

A relic from college metaphysics.

A relic from college metaphysics.

 

Metaphysics had been one of my favorite philosophy courses, and A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality is a text that’s echoed in the ravines of my memory ever since, as personal identity theory interests me greatly. My penchant for sci-fi action-thriller-type movies would have been enough to propel me into the theater for this movie, but academic curiosity heightened my anticipation. What were the writers of Self/less going to do with this challenging metaphysical topic?

Turns out, nothing. The people behind Self/less took on the subject by not taking it on at all. This is anything but a toothsome philosophical study; about a quarter of the way through, I accepted the fact that Self/less is a dumb sci-fi action movie, romping around the casings of the ideas.

But no matter! I was really there for the fun of it and the thrill of an action-packed ride… and sometimes, truth be told, the dumber the sci-fi movie, the more I enjoy it. Before I knew just how insubstantial and mediocre Self/less was going to be, I settled back for good times, but a part of my mind remained occupied, needled by the ghostly recollection of Perry’s book. I made a mental note to pull it down from the shelf when I got home.

An hour later, the credits rolled, the lights came on, and the four of us left the theater somewhat underwhelmed by what we’d just seen. The movie fell short of delivering in the “good times” department, as well.

When I retrieved A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality from my bookshelf the next day, I opened it and read the first sentence to greet my eyeballs:

“Memory is sufficient for identity and bodily identity is not necessary for it. The survivor remembered Julia’s thoughts and actions, and so was Julia.”

Just as I’d thought I’d recalled! I flipped back a few pages, read a little more, and couldn’t help but wonder if the Self/less script-writers had been inspired by Perry’s paper. The story behind the above quote reads:

“Julia North was a young woman who was run over by a streetcar while saving the life of a young child who wandered onto the tracks. The child’s mother, one Mary Frances Beaudine, had a stroke while watching the horrible scene. Julia’s healthy brain and wasted body, and Mary Frances’ healthy body and wasted brain, were transported to a hospital where a brilliant neurosurgeon, Dr. Matthews, was in residence. He had worked out a procedure for what he called a ‘body transplant’. He removed the brain from Julia’s head and placed it in Mary Frances’, splicing the nerves, and so forth, using techniques not available until quite recently. The survivor of all of this was obviously Julia, as everyone agreed – except, unfortunately, Mary Frances’ husband.” 

This, essentially, provides the premise for Self/less. The “body transplant” procedure described in A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality is called “shedding” in Self/less, and Perry’s Dr. Matthews correlates to the Self/less character Albright (Matthew Goode).

In Self/less, the (cleverly named) company offering to perform the body transplant/shedding, Phoenix Biogenic, has made an exclusive private industry of the procedure, available to the 1% who could afford it. The company’s slogan? “Leaders in Consciousness Transfer Technology.”

Consciousness Transfer Technology. The door is open here for a re-con mission into the complexities of mind, consciousness and identity in relation to the body, but mostly what we get is Ryan Reynolds playing a character vacationing in another character’s body until flashes of memory from the original owner of said body clues him into the reality of his situation. A bunch of predictable shit hits the fan. “Soon I’ll be gone,” Damian (Ben Kingsley/Ryan Reynolds) intones toward the end. “I can already feel myself fading.” Our protagonist gallantly bows out after Doing the Right Thing. Imagine that!

All snark aside, I have to say that Self/less deserves points for coming up with the most elaborate suicide I can remember seeing in cinema. The movie encompasses a long, slow self-destruction from beginning to end, with Damian unwittingly employing a convoluted and roundabout method of killing himself. This path proves to be beneficial in allowing him opportunities to tie up some critical loose ends along the way, such as banging a succession of hot chicks in his borrowed body (freshly shedded Damian remarks that his new young and healthy body “has that new-body smell,” and he wastes no time in taking it out for a few joy rides) and delivering a heartfelt letter to his estranged daughter, who believes him to be dead (atonement and closure, check and check).

Self/less wasn’t the worst sci-fi action movie I’ve ever seen… I thought it was marginally better than last summer’s disappointment, Lucy… but I’m thinking it rather dulls the luster on the resumes of some of its talented actors. As Albright astutely remarks, “Immortality has some side effects.”

I’m Your Secretary! (Not)

Identity is a spiky thing, a sacred thing, and it’s interesting how profoundly we realize it when our own identities are challenged, threatened or compromised in some way, or when our reputations are sullied, reputation being a facet of identity. We feel protective about our identities like we do about practically nothing else. We know who we are, and we want others to know who we are. (Even more than that, we want others to take the next step and accept who we are, but that’s a subject for a separate post.)

A few weeks ago, there was a muddle about something at work that led to an error and an inaccuracy in someone’s “brief bio” on our website. The person in question made the discovery when he went to check out his entry, and he promptly let me know about the issues in an email.

Now, I don’t usually beat myself up when something goes wrong, but this time I felt a good twinge. Incorrect information about the guy was out there, in public, and that kind of freaked me out because I know how I feel when biographical information about me comes out wrong, or not how I intended it. Not only that, but regardless of the circumstances, I was the one responsible for the snafu. I felt pretty craptastic about the whole thing even though the errors arose from confusion rather than negligence. (And this is why I’m not a surgeon, folks. If I’m going to be involved in mistakes at work, I’d rather they be fixable mistakes. I would rather accidentally butcher someone’s online “brief bio” than amputate the wrong leg. I mean, in that case, you could still save the patient’s life by going back and amputating the correct leg, but then he’d have no legs at all, and that would be an unspeakable, atrocious consequence. Not to come across as flippant about tragic medical errors that actually do occur… just to point out that there are mistakes, and then there are Mistakes).

Perspective cannot be overrated.

I got the guy’s WTF email at the very end of the day. After running here and there doing whatever  damage control was possible at the time, I went home, retrieved a small package from the mail, opened it, and found that, in a bizarre coincidence of timing, the same thing had just happened to me! In my case, however, the errors in my “brief bio” were in print, so they were indelible. I did not have the luxury of being able to zip off an email expressing my displeasure and commanding someone to fix the mistakes.

Unlike electronic errors, printed errors can’t be yanked from public view and corrected with a few keystrokes. There are no such magical disappearing acts in print. If your “brief bio” is incorrect and the text goes to press and the ink dries on the paper and the copies are distributed, you will be erroneously represented until the end of time, and there is nothing that anyone can do about it. That is how poor Dr. Sanford Couch came to be Dr. Snaford Couch.

Click the image below to see the publication in question (or to purchase it, if you’re so inclined):

 

Two of my poems are in here.

Two of my poems are in here.

 

 

The last sentence of my “brief bio” at the end of the book says that I live in Chandler (which I don’t), and that I’m a community college secretary (which I’m not). These things were true when I first submitted the text three years ago, though. I lived in Chandler at the time, and I worked as the Department Secretary for World Languages at MCC for a short while before moving to France.

When the Clackamas Literary Review confirmed that Volume XV would finally be published, I wasted no time in sending them an updated “brief bio” along with the revised poems both physically (to their mailing address), and electronically (to not one, but two different email addresses). Despite this effort and the Editor’s emailed acknowledgement of receipt (Hi Kristi, I received your info and work–thank you!  We plan to have all back issues out by June…) the volume somehow went to press with the outdated “brief bio.”

 

Hello, three years ago me!

Hello, three years ago me!

 

It says “2011” on the cover, but the copyright date inside is May 14, 2014.

I wasn’t angry or upset, mind you… I just noted the oversight with the odd flavor of vexation and wry amusement swirled together on my tongue. I was vexed because this was not my first, but second time experiencing this kind of thing (no doubt this happens to poets, writers and other creative professionals all the time), and amused because of the irony and timing of it, having just come from trying to fix mistakes in someone else’s “brief bio.”

I did not email the Editor to point out the error, or to ask about it, or to air consternation… there was no reason to expend negative energy, and nothing could have been done, anyway. Moreover, to err is human, and who am I to go around acting like people are supposed to be perfect when I often feel more fallible than the average person (whether that’s true or not)? I was just happy to see that the volume made it to press, period… and grateful that my work appeared in it, as always. In the end, it really doesn’t matter that I don’t live there anymore or don’t have that job anymore. People who know me know the deal, and if people who don’t know me pick up the book and think that I live somewhere I don’t and do something I don’t, so what?

Again, perspective. It’s a wonderful thing.

Happy Friday, All!

The Man Formerly Known as Sanford

The other day, I read an article about a news anchor whose photo was mistakenly captioned as “Dana Horsewomen” (in place of “Dana Holgorsen”), either someone’s idea of a joke, or the result of an autocorrect feature on crack. This reminded me of the following:

Sometime during the ‘90’s, a professor at Arizona State University (my alma mater) appeared in the university’s faculty directory under an incorrect name. Due to a typographic error, Dr. Sanford Couch became “Snaford Couch.”

Here’s the remarkable thing: For whatever reason – indifference? amusement? – Dr. Couch kept the new version of his name. Whether he made it legal or not, he’s gone by “Snaford Couch” ever since. Not only does he continue to appear in the directory as “Snaford” year after year, but he took it a step further and has it written that way on his professional web site. I love him for this.

I mean, how many people would think to become the error rather than have it fixed?

Maybe I should have contacted Dr. Couch to get his permission to talk about him in my blog, but I don’t think he’d mind. This is not me making fun of him. This is me writing a little tribute to him, because here I am throwing a fit if someone spells my name with a “Ch” or ends it with a “y.” When someone writes my name, I always say it’s “Kristi with a ‘K’,” like the K is such a big deal. Next time I feel compelled to prevent such an error, I should think of The Man Formerly Known as Sanford.

Snaford Couch is the man.