[Editor’s Note: We want to thoughtfully explore what is worth discussing in movies and shows. Spiritual and gospel themes are often embedded in what we’re already watching. By talking about something, Power to Change – Students is not giving an official endorsement, nor are we giving a ranking or judgment of overall quality. We simply desire to join the conversations that people are already having about #movies+shows.
This article contains spoilers for “San Junipero,” an episode in the show Black Mirror.]
The Netflix series Black Mirror takes a deep dive into the question of what it means to be human in light of modern technology.
“San Junipero” is an episode that takes on themes common to human experience. They pack an exploration of heaven, hell, love, identity, death, marriage, free choice, eternity, loneliness, sexuality, selfishness, faith, and God into a single episode. It’s a lot. It’s also award-winning.
In this episode, the setting is San Junipero—a party town. Nestled on the coast of a beautiful paradisal landscape. The ocean, rugged terrain, and vibrant nightlife all work together visually to conjure up positive emotions of unending fun, happiness, and human connectedness.
The two main characters are Yorkie and Kelly. These two young women are polar opposites. Yorkie is in her early twenties, dressed very conservatively—even for the year 1987—which is in the first scene-setting. Her glasses are conservative, her clothing conservative. Everything about her screams dull and unflattering.
It’s not that she is unattractive. It’s more that she considers it important for her appearance to display who she is on the inside. Impressively, her outside appearance and inside world are authentically integrated.
Kelly, on the other hand, is outwardly stunning. She has a wonderfully vibrant personality—fun-loving, free-spirited, and outgoing. She dresses in brilliantly vivid colours. She is openly noncommittal and bisexual. The question is whether or not she authentically integrates what on the inside with her outside appearance.
The contrast between the two women appears intentionally obvious. Their personalities, fashion sense, even their skin colour are set at odds with one another. The juxtaposition is difficult to overlook.
The episode opens with Kelly fighting with a guy she had recently hooked up with. He wants them to continue to enjoy the “special connection” they shared on their random night of passion. Kelly is adamant that the special connection he felt didn’t exist. A fantasy in his imagination.
Her words, “It was just sex” left me with a haunting sense of pain. Pain for the one on the receiving end of those words. They left me with a question for myself, “Is there such thing as ‘just sex’?”
That same night, Yorkie meets Kelly. This is maybe the only predictable thing in the show—the two polar opposites connect. The socially confident, sexually experienced girl meets the girl who has never even danced before. A single night of passion-filled bliss ensues. The two form a connection that seems destined to last forever.
Inexperienced Yorkie quickly finds the relationship is not as picture-perfect as she would have liked. Kelly’s deep issues of trust and abandonment begin to surface. What do people who struggle with trust and abandonment often do? Kelly intentionally makes herself hard to find.
As you can imagine, Yorkie is heartbroken. Her first experience of love. A dark cloud of feeling unwanted, hurt, and anger envelops her. She, quite literally, searches high and low for Kelly.
Everything isn’t as it seems in San Junipero. Not unlike our lives—everything isn’t as it seems from outward appearances.
As I said, the setting of “San Junipero” starts in 1987. Kelly, however, actively avoids Yorkie by going to different years. Yorkie looks for her in the ’80s, ‘90s, and eventually finds her in 2002.
Confused? Black Mirror episodes have a way of doing that. How does Yorkie look for Kelly across a decade? Good question!
As it turns out, they are not in the physical world of time, matter, and space. The episode—as are most Black Mirror episodes—is set in the not-too-distant future. In this future, humans are technologically advanced enough to upload human consciousness into a server. They’re painting a picture of an unending future for humanity, eternal existence virtually in the cloud.
Yorkie and Kelly’s relationship has been entirely online. There they could feel, touch, and taste. But even in a created paradise, relationships experience conflict and real emotional pain.
You can feel Yorkie’s pain. Something beautiful and magical has been discarded like an old pizza box. Her feelings of being unwanted and disconnected can’t be erased by hitting backspace.
Black Mirror explores more than the passion and pain of human relationships. It maps out the possibility of human life lived in the cloud, where through modern technology, we can be ourselves—who we are in our essence—in an immaterial form.
Nonetheless, problems must still be navigated in the cloud. For Yorkie and Kelly, their relationship is just scratching the surface of something much bigger.
What they are forced to contend with is what they will value most. The options seem polarizing: the “real” realm of flesh and blood, or the technological “miracle” afforded by science?
In the flesh-and-blood world, it turns out that Yorkie is in her 70s. She is a quadriplegic woman living in a long-term care facility. After telling her highly religious parents that she has feelings of attraction to other women (a conversation that didn’t go well), she had driven off in emotional turmoil. That night left her completely paralyzed. The only functioning organ in her body was her brain—the one thing necessary to be uploaded to the cloud forever.
Talk about thickening the plot.
Kelly, in the flesh and blood, is a Black woman, also in her 70s. She resides in a long-term care home a couple of hundred miles away from Yorkie. After 49 years of marriage, Kelly’s husband had recently “passed on.”
Her abandonment issues and noncommittal attitude come into higher resolution as you see they are the result of a traumatic loss. The love of your life, five decades, gone—all in the blink of an eye.
In typical Black Mirror fashion, they do not back down from tackling the biggest problem that has been troubling humanity since day one—the problem of death. Yorkie and Kelly confront death in contrasting ways.
Yorkie chooses to be euthanized. With that decision, she passes into the cloud permanently. It’s not hard to understand why. There, at least, she has arms and legs in a body that moves about, a substantial improvement from her earthly condition.
Alternatively, Kelly chooses to pass over naturally—that is, not uploaded into the cloud.
In Kelly’s last scene, she is sitting with her nurse and out of nowhere, she says, “All things considered, I guess I’m ready for it.”
Slightly puzzled, her nurse asks, “For what?”
With a look of resolve on her face, Kelly responds, “For the rest of it.”
The scene cuts to a plane passing above, through the sky spotted with random clouds, pregnant with symbolism.
Kelly’s decision is interesting because she has been upfront in her belief that nothing comes after death. Kelly’s decision isn’t based on hope in an afterlife.
Her choice is based on something else—a 49-year committed relationship with her husband. Her choice is to follow her husband. She wants to be in the same place as him, regardless. There’s something deeply meaningful about that decision.
Black Mirror paints a picture of our future. It is honest in its outlook––how the impact of technology on human lives isn’t entirely good. I would say this is especially the case with how it affects human relationships. Technology has a dark side, and Black Mirror thinks that side is worth looking at with some detail.
The idea of uploading human consciousness to a server, into a paradisal, eternal existence might seem far-fetched. I’m not ready to say it’s impossible, however. When I was young, our phone was fixed to the wall with a cord. In my short life the impossible has happened before my eyes. Technology is increasing at a mind-numbing rate. What will the next Elon Musk invent?
Technology could make a man-made heaven where we can do whatever we want. A place where we can transcend all of our physical limitations is not entirely out of the question. We are effectively playing in that realm with video games. The right kind of genius just needs to come along to upload us into the game, so that we aren’t playing it, we are living it.
Yet, as good as this might be, it is worthy of a pause for thought. We might be able to create the perfect environment for people to live, but we can’t create perfect people. Is technology actually able to help us be better people?
Yorkie and Kelly uploaded all their regular fears, hopes, dreams, and dysfunctions into the technological paradise with them. Yet there was still a large industrial building in San Junipero crammed full of unfulfilled human souls desperately looking for meaning.
The other important implication of choosing a man-made paradise is that, in choosing this route, you forgo the possibility of a paradise that might be on the other side of death, one that may be created––and waiting for us––by God himself.
The idea of the “cloud” made me think of heaven—just as the stars in the night sky got me thinking seriously about God in my mid-20s for the first time.
When Jesus goes to his own death, on a cross, willingly, even purposefully, he opens the gateway for us to experience eternity. Since God has the keys to life and death, a grave could not hold him down. Jesus comes back to life and makes a very important promise.
He says he is going back to heaven, from which he originally came. He will prepare a paradise there, a place that allows us to break free from our physical limitations. No pain, no sickness, no emotional letdown.
But, this is a place where it’s not only our environment that will be perfected—we will be as well. Our relationships will be perfect. We will love and be loved perfectly. This place where Jesus is now is a paradise that makes San Junipero look like a dump.
Just as in this Black Mirror episode, everyone is free to make the big decision on their own. I encourage you to look at Jesus—the creator of a perfected eternity—and decide for yourself if he is worth following.