15 Million Merits is based in a world where exercise bikes power the world and those who are on those bikes earn merits (money) so that they can buy food and accessories for their “doppel” (which is a virtual version of you and you can dress them up etc), their bedroom are made up of screens where they have to watch adverts including adverts of porn and a game show called Hot Shots (a take from X Factor). It’s a world where reality is based on a screen, your life has adverts streaming to you where ever you are and there is a charge for not watching them. Those who don’t contribute to society due to being overweight, ill or old get ridiculed and some become cleaners where the bike riders hail abuse at them.
The only way out, the only salvation is by auditioning for Hot Shots so that you can win freedom. But all is not as it seems, the protagonist Bing meets a lady who actually has talent and a shot of getting out of this mundane bike riding life. But it’s all a fake, the judges don’t care for her or her talent and instead persuade her to go on the porn channel and be a porn star where she can become famous and never have to ride a bike again. This infuriates Bing and so he fights back and comes out with heart wrenching speech in front of the judges where he hits the nail on the head of how the world of the Doppel, the world of technology has numbed our minds:
“What, I have a dream? The peak of our dreams is a new app for our Dopple, it doesn’t exist! It’s not even there! We buy sh*t that’s not even there. Show us something real and free and beautiful. You couldn’t. Yeah? It’ll break us. We’re too numb for it. I might as well choke. It’s only so much wonder we can bear. That’s why when you find any wonder whatsoever; you dole it out in meager portions.”
“The peak of our dream is a new app” It’s disturbing isn’t it? Bing goes on to say:
“And only then until it’s augmented, packaged, and plumped through 10,000 pre-assigned filters till it’s nothing more than a meaningless series of lights, while we ride day in day out, going where? Powering what? All tiny cells and tiny screens and bigger cells and bigger screens”
“It doesn’t exist”… “while we ride day in day out, going where? Powering what?” A mundane existence that drives towards getting bigger cells (living spaces) and bigger screens (ipads, flat screen TV’s). We power on and on and we become numb and anything real or beautiful will just break us. Some of this is Ecclesiastes language, the idea of meaningless and striving and toiling and not getting anywhere. It makes you take a step back. Am I numb to life? Do I just want comfort? Is the constant viewing of screens and online life sapping something of beauty and wonder away?
“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”
― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
In Huxley’s Brave New World he also explores the place of technology and pleasure. Technology appears to be the saviour of mankind where they can find all their comforts and needs met while reducing danger and pain – but at the cost of mind-numbing dependence. Huxley gives us a grim view of the future on the same vein as 15 Million Merits.
Technology isn’t evil. But it makes you think about what you value and where the world is heading. Sometimes I find myself in a group of people and all I am doing is checking my phone looking at twitter and Facebook. In these moments I am missing the interaction and community around me.
In 15 Million Merits there is an escape from the mundane way of life through the Doppel and through the Reality TV show “Hot Shots”. Both which prove to be fake, they trap you in a world that drugs you and deprives you of real beauty and emotion.
This show makes you yearn for real life. The gritty real life of flesh, dirt and sweat. The place of real conversations and emotions. There is a moment when Bing and this lady hold hands. It’s the one thing thats real.
It makes me think about how Jesus takes on real flesh and becomes truly human. Truly human means he laughs and cries and hugs people and eats with people and gets tired. Truly human means having a perfect relationship with His Father in Heaven. He says he has come to bring life and life to its fullness. Fullness of touch, taste and sounds. Broken relationships restored.
We not only have the physical and spiritual but we now have the virtual.
Imagination is good. It’s needed for creativity. Escapism on some level that transforms us into a world of imagination and stretches our mind with stories is good. They draw us out of ourselves. But when our world is seen through a screen, eyes fixed on a black mirror, distracted by the beeping and adverts then life becomes very small, we are drawn into ourselves.
Is Facebook real life? In some sense yes, there is a reality to it, there is a community on some level. There is a function to it and its a good function. But also in some sense it’s not real life, it’s not where I should live my life or spend my money, it’s not where I solely cultivate community. Flesh is better. Face to face is better. A life less in front of a screen is fuller. Jesus offers us more. He offers us the gritty life of new creation and new family where we are invited to live in community like in Acts 2:42-47. He offers us true humanity in Him. If we want to escape the mundane and meaningless parts of our lives then we should turn to Him. Not a computer screen.
“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10
At the end of 15 Million Merits, Bing is offered an escape where he can have his own 30 min show twice a week where he says soul-stirring speeches like the one above. But as the camera pans out we see that Bing has been sucked into the lie. In his room, which is much bigger then before, he stares out the window overlooking a beautiful forest. But its fake. It’s another computer screen. It’s not reality. He doesn’t have fullness of life. There is only one way to get that.