Leiya Lee, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.
In this postmodern image culture inflicted by video-game logic, death has lost its sense of jeopardy and has become merely a gesture. In some video games, a player often finds themselves unable to progress in a level and their only solution would be to “die” which restarts the level. Even when the death is not voluntary (i.e. suicide), there is no real consequence to “dying” in a video game. Game over? Start again. As if riffing off the Greek mythology of the phoenix for the digital age, death is seen as a way of starting over; to reboot is to reincarnate. I call this “digital death”. In film, “digital death” has increasingly become a narrative solution (e.g. Final Destination 2 (2003), The Butterfly Effect (2004) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011)), meanwhile, repeated digital deaths have also become a narrative device (Source Code (2011), Edge of Tomorrow (2014) and Happy Death Day (2017)… all arguably influenced by Groundhog Day (1993)). Unlike normal screen deaths (e.g. Marion Crane in Psycho (1960)), “digital death” breaks narrative impasse and bears little to no consequence in their respective narratives. To compare with “digital deaths”, I will also look at “deaths of the digital” (where the same starting-over logic applies) in two Disney features: WALL-E (2008) and Big Hero 6 (2014). The “deaths” concern robots which are technically inanimate objects that have merely been anthropomorphised. I argue that one digitises the human while the other humanises the digital. By juxtaposing “digital deaths” and “deaths of the digital”, this paper observes that there is a lack of the sense of jeopardy and consequence in the perception of death and contemplates its possible implications in postmodern society.