Beauty or the beast

Disney’s 2017 remake epitomizes how lonely it gets in the uncanny valley.

I am at 2000 meters on a transcontinental flight to Australia, Australis, the part previously known as the other side of the world, where I will be within a day. In front of me is a video screen showing the 2017 remake of Beauty and the Beast. Next to it is a USB slot charging my noise cancelling headphones, subtracting the airplane noise, working to mitigate the distance, pull me closer to the musical.

“Impressive” would be the word to describe the set pieces, the table setting itself, the teapots flying and outfits swirling—and of course the beast, the digitally rendered fur on its head, the virtual leaps across the screen, the brooding affection on his face. But the spell breaks. The lips are ever so slightly out of sync. Through it all, and despite the deeply engrained story, music, and tropes, I feel the impossibility to relate.

This is the age of imperfect virtuality. Our images and AI are scratching at the simulacrum, they are half real and the remainder, we keep hearing, we will live to see realized. Sometimes we’re fooled already. But each time we’re not, we pay a different price.

We are continuously confronted with faces, gestures, places that for all intents and purposes seem real, but also fake, always fake. What is human is never simply human. The Beast is not real, and the doubt rubs off on his co-stars, on Emma Watson and Ewan McGreror (who weren’t real to begin with)—but on my neighbor, the girl filing her toes in the window seat, the guy in front of me buying jewelry from the stewardess.

Life in the uncanny valley is lonesome.

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