If you haven’t seen the 1995 movie Jumanji, you probably should. I can describe it best as a true “children’s horror movie,” despite the fantasy elements. Basically, a child gets sucked into a jungle-based game, disappears off the face of the Earth and lives in another dimension for like a long time, and then returns as a haggard traumatized adult. Meanwhile, all the scary stuff from the game—mostly animals, but also a crazy game hunter—enter “our” world through the portal (and that’s exactly what it is, a portal) of the game board itself.
Now that I’ve described the original Jumanji to you, let’s move on to the upcoming (reboot?) Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle.
Having seen the trailer…this is sort of a completely different film from the original. In fact, on the very surface of it, this would seem like the sort of ill-advised sequel on the order of Ace Ventura Jr., Pet Detective if not for the pretty high-profile cast such as Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black.
But there is a very interesting topic the trailer brought up for me, and that is: AVATARS.
The premise of Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle is that a bunch of teenagers get sucked into an old video game and become “avatars” that are mostly quite physically different from their everyday selves. The sorta nerdy guy becomes Dwayne Johnson, for example. The really tall buff kid becomes way shorter (Kevin Hart). And the haughty beauty queen becomes Jack Black.
I have not seen the rest of this movie, but based on the trailer I would have to imagine that the avatars these characters are given somehow relate to aspects of their “true” selves.
How many of us use avatars for social media or other online communication that are not ourselves, but images/ideas of how we would like to be? And then we get down to the more “rabbit-holey” question…are these images/ideas we use for our avatars actually realer than the selves we live out in our daily lives?
There were two very similar movies that came out in 2009 on exactly this topic: Surrogates, starring Bruce Willis, and Gamer, with Gerard Butler. In the former, the avatars are robots, and in the latter it’s a video game. The idealized “form” is sent out as the avatar of the real person. Hilarity ensues (no, not really).
This is of course hardly a “new” concept; this has been going on since the Internet began. But what is interesting to me is that we have out there a whole “layer” of “surrogates” or “avatars” interacting with each other…a whole strata of social interaction that rests largely or even solely on these assumed personas.
And again I arrive at the question: is this alternate layer of reality the “fake layer”? Or is it really the “realler” layer?
Is the particular “nerd” really, at heart, more like the Dwayne Johnson hero…I mean, at the core of his sense of truest self? And then does one, in this case, try to “embrace” the “truer” Self…or is that just the worst delusion? Or is the biological Self in this reality somewhat “transitory” anyway…is it better to just embrace that truer self because that’s sort of what you will be “stuck with” in the next plane of existence (if you believe in such things) anyway?
Or is there even a core Self at all? Are there just many “selves,” depending on the situation? (this would roughly correspond with a person’s “arsenal” of multiple avatars/profiles for various online interactions)
You can probably foresee all the myriad delicate rabbit holes this line of questioning will lead to. And I’m not going to go any further down that hole right now. But as there are debates (some tongue-in-cheek, to be sure) about whether or not we are really living in a “computer simulated” reality…could it be that we are actively “building” that reality ourselves? We are building this alternate layer…which ends up, ultimately, being the “truer” layer?
More to read about on Butterfly Language:
Joey Tribbiani Has Become “Virtually Immortalized” (And Could Make New “Friends” Episodes Forever)
Do We Even Need Real People To Follow On Instagram?
The Man Who Is Becoming An Elf (A Modern Archetype?)