A Simulated World
24 July 2020
Black Mirror is the Twilight Zone for the modern world. The show examines aspects of current life and its connections to technology. Each episode tackles a different aspect of technology and the grim consequences it has on our lives. A 2016 episode titled “San Junipero”, directed by Owen Harris, presents two women and their experiences in a simulated reality.
One woman, Yorkie, is quick to accept that everything in the simulated world is real. However, the other woman, Kelly, is not as quick to believe. The episode begs the question, what does a virtual world need to simulate reality? Through film elements such as mise en scene, cinematography, and editing, the theme is emphasized by the characters’ reactions to things in the simulated world.
The episode “San Junipero” revolves around a world where elderly people can visit this simulated town called San Junipero and eventually live in the simulated town once they die, where they can continue to exist as their younger selves. For the majority of her time in this simulated world, Yorkie spends it in the 80s.
The episode opens with a pan down shot of “The Lost Boys” poster, which immediately tells us that the episode takes place in the late 80s. Not only does “The Lost Boys” poster give us, the viewers, and people in San Junipero a sense of the 80s, but the movie’s tagline was “sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die”. This serves as a reminder to the people of San Junipero that they can do whatever they want because they will never grow old or die. Other indications of the era are the cars people are driving, the people’s clothing and hairstyles, and the music.
Another nod to the 80s is the arcade games in Tuckers night club that Yorkie plays, Bubble Bobble, which came out in 1986, and the game Top Speed, which was relieved in 1987. It is important that the craters of the show make sure everything fits into the era, otherwise, we would not understand the setting. The 80s setting also plays a role within the episode because they are in a simulated reality. If the 80s aesthetic is not believable for the people in the world, they would have a hard time accepting it.
After spending a couple of days together in San Junipero, Yorkie and Kelly sit together and talk about meeting in real life. The scene starts with the camera panning to the left as Kelly is walking over to Yorkie. It has a very dark palate with Yorkie and Kelly blending in with the background. This is done to show that they, in San Junipero, are the same as the town itself, simulated, not real.
Once Yorkie and Kelly start talking, the majority of the scene is shot from a low height with a medium shot and soft lighting. Yorkie and Kelly are centered in the frame because they are the most important subjects of the scene, and they are being more real than the rest of San Junipero. They are discussing the real world; their real selves; how long they have to live. In the next shot, Kelly takes a drag from her cigarette. This is shot with a medium close-up on Kelly, so the viewer can see her look of disgust regarding the cigarette because it doesn’t taste real. San Junipero can be seen in the background. Expressing again that San Junipero is not a real place. It’s just a computer program made up of ones and zeros.
When they go back to talking about meeting in real life, the shot goes back to the medium shot. The viewer can see both women’s reactions to the conversation. We can see Yorkie get increasingly stressed about Kelly visiting her because she thinks she’ll hate her or it will ruin their relationship. We see Kelly’s reaction, not understanding why Yorkie fears their meeting in real life. The next shot, after Kelly said she’s going to visit Yorkie, cuts to a close-up on Yorkie looking very distressed saying she doesn’t want Kelly to see her in the real world. She would prefer their relationship to remain in San Junipero, the simulated world.
After Yorkie confronts Kelly in the bathroom of Tuckers about hiding/avoiding her. Yorkie storms out of the bathroom, leaving Kelly in the bathroom alone. She looks at herself in the mirror, in an attempt to regain her composure, then looks directly at the camera before punching the mirror, shattering it. The camera pans down as Kelly looks at her hand. It’s completely fine. It’s not bloody or even bruised. Then the camera pans up to the mirror where it looks as if it were never broken. This shot served as a reminder to Kelly that she is in a simulated reality. The episode, overall, is comprised of several time jumps.
The first one happens around the thirteen-minute mark. It transitions from Yorkie walking through a puddle, and as the puddle ripples, the moon slowly comes into focus, then it cuts to black and a title card appears saying “one week later”. This is an example of graphic matching.
The next time jump happens around the twenty-five-minute mark. When it just abruptly cuts to black followed by a title card saying “one week later”. This happens several more times symbolizing a time jump, but also Yorkie going into different eras. When she’s in each era, the text “one week later” is in a different font, symbolizing the new era. Despite the time jumps to different decades, Yorkie acts as if no time has passed. She wears different clothes, appropriate for each decade, but she doesn’t look any older. She shows no recognition that the decade is different. This is because she is aware she is in a simulated reality, but a first-time viewer would not know this.
With the increased use of technological advances, a simulated afterlife could be something we see in our future. “San Junipero” uses mise en scene, to make the setting believable. It uses cinematography to show the feeling of the characters in regard to each other and the world around them. It also uses editing to show that the world Kelly and Yorkie are in is simulated, and to show jumps in time, to keep the story flowing cohesively.