Off screen


“Toward the end of the film, the hero (Robert Duvall) attempts to escape from his underworld city (called, in the title of the student version of the film done by Lucas at the University of Southern California, an “Electronic Labyrinth”). It is an escape which will bring him finally to a huge ventilation shaft and from there into real daylight for the first time. On the way he breaks into a video monitor room, annex of the central computer bank, and in an act of ultimate counter-acculturation takes the controls himself. He punches out the necessary code and then focuses in on a full-screen shot of the bottled fetus to which his just-dead mate’s ID number has been reassigned. Too long trapped in this encaved prison house of images himself, he cannot help but read this last image—the only one he has chosen for himself to call up, the one that makes visible to him the end of what human place he could claim in this subterranean world—cannot help but read this fetal image, or at least we can’t help but read it for him, as a symbol. The hero will become now in his own shaved person just such a newborn identity, out the long tunnel into the light. In escaping from the actual detention center a few scenes before, the prison within the prison—an overexposed sterile space bled of color and without discernible walls or angles, as if it were the two-dimensional space of his own video-monitored entrapment on an engulfing white screen—he is led out by a fugitive hologram, no less. This video refugee, one of the figures nightly used to pacify the masses, is a mirage tired of being ensnared in his monotonous digital circuit and aching to break free into bodied reality. When asked by the hero for the direction out, he points straight off the screen into the camera and so at us, at a palpable world elsewhere, the world itself…”

Garrett Stewart, “Videology.” Shadows of the Magic Lamp: Fantasy and Science Fiction Film. George Slusser & Eric S. Rabin eds. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. 1985. p 176.

Symmetrical Reality

Virilio: To start with, the simulator is an object in itself, which is different from televison and leads to cyberspace. The US Air Force flight simulator – the first sophisticated simulators were created by the US Air Force – has been used in order to save gas on real flights by training pilots on the ground. Thus there is a cyberspace vision: one doesn’t fly in real space, one creates a poor cyberspace, with headphones, etc…it is a different logic. In a way, the simulator is closer to cyberspace than televison. It creates a different world. So, of course, the simulator quickly became a simulator of accidents, but not only that: it started simulating actual flight hours, and these hours have been counted as real hours to evaluate the experience of pilots. Simulated flight hours and real flight hours became equivalent, and this was cyberspace, not the accident but something else, or rather the accident of reality. What is accidented is reality. Virtuality will destroy reality. So, it’s some kind of accident, but an accident of a very different nature. The accident is not the accident. For instance, if I let this glass fall, is it an accident? No, it’s the reality of the glass that is accidented, not the glass itself. The glass is certainly broken and no longer exists, but with a flight simulator, what is accidented is the reality of the glass, and not the glass itself: what is accidented is the reality of the whole world. Cyberspace is an accident of the real. Virtual reality is the accident of reality itself.


But then simulation doesn’t really pretend to be the glass?

Virilio: This is a little hard to explain. We have a sense of reality which is sustained by a physical sensation. Right now, I am holding a bottle: this is reality. With a data glove, I could hold a virtual bottle. Cybersex is similar: it is an accident of sexual reality, perhaps the most extraordinary accident, but still an accident. I would be tempted to say: the accident is shifting. It no longer occurs in matter, but in light or in images. A Cyberspace is a light-show. Thus, the accident is in light, not in matter. The creation of a virtual image is a form of accident. This explains why virtual reality is a cosmic accident. It’s the accident of the real.

I disagree with my friend Baudrillard on the subject of simulation. To the word simulation, I prefer the one substitution. This is a real glass, this is no simulation. When I hold a virtual glass with a data glove, this is no simulation, but substitution. Here lies the big difference between Baudrillard and myself: I don’t believe in simulationism, I believe that the word is already old-fashioned. As I see it, new technologies are substituting a virtual reality for an actual reality. And this is more than a phase: it’s a definite change. We are entering a world where there won’t be one but two realities, just like we have two eyes or hear bass and treble tones, just like we now have stereoscopy and stereophony: there will be two realities: the actual, and the virtual. Thus there is no simulation, but substitution. Reality has become symmetrical. The splitting of reality in two parts is a considerable event which goes far beyond simulation.

Cyberwar, God And Television: Interview with Paul Virilio

My time… is your time

“In the tradition of films like Metropolis, Things to Come, and Logan’s Run, all works that carefully stylize their futuristic worlds and, in the process, set their reality at a safe aesthetic distance from our own, THX 1138 too reaches for a distinct visual scheme, a highly stylized rendition of this other place. However, instead of the sort of monumental look we find to some degree in most utopian/dystopian films, it turns in another direction, offering a stark simplicity: cubicles and bare walls that frame the individual within severe rectangles, imprisoning the subject but also replicating the film frame itself and thereby rendering the person as doubly a “screened” image. In a further development of this design scheme, seen especially in the futuristic prison-without-walls to which THX is consigned, it emphasizes horizonless, open space that has the effect of reducing dimension, turning the self into a two-dimensional figure. More pervasive, though building to a similar effect, is the monochromatic color scheme. The constant white-on-white, recalling the initial descriptions of the future world in Huxley’s Brave New World, not only suggests a sterile and lifeless world but also diminishes the individual by making the subject blend into the background and again appear two-dimensional. Individuality and individuation simply have no place here. The overall effect of this visual design scheme is to consistently frame subjects in an abstract space, removing them from a conventionally real world and, in the process, reconfiguring them as part of a derealized environment.

“In keeping with this effect, THX 1138 also brings into the foreground the very role of representation here and its implications for future life; for from its start this film manifests a kind of self-consciousness, evoking the mechanism of the movies and asking us to consider the effects of that mechanism. We see this impulse in the constant iconography of video screens, computer terminals, and surveillance technology, in the whole mechanics of reproduction on which the genre so often focuses. Of course, that sort of imagery hardly seems out of place here, since such icons typically fill our science fiction narratives. As Garrett Stewart notes, these various “mechanics of apparition,” through their omnipresence, have indeed become a kind of generic signature.”

Telotte, J.P. “The Science Fiction Film as Fantastic Text: THX 1138.” Science Fiction Film.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. pp  130.