Nirvana (1997): What is the meaning of the cult cyberpunk film?
Nirvana by the Italian director Gabriele Salvatores can be called without exaggeration one of the strangest films of the late 20th century. Without this film, there would be no glorified “Matrix”, it is considered a cult movie, but it is little known to the mass audience. This is an ideal, both artistically and semantic, embodiment of the cyberpunk world of William Gibson, but Gibson has nothing to do with Nirvana. Finally, this is a film, the main idea of which is often misinterpreted, and the plot is not fully understood.
Why is Nirvana a cult cyberpunk movie?
As a direction of science fiction, cyberpunk is a complex mixture of admiration for new technologies, deep disappointment in the structure of a post-industrial society and an instinctive craving for images, plots and the style of noir. The universe of “Nirvana” not only contains all the components of cyberpunk, but elevates them to the absolute.
The action takes place in the backyard of a hopelessly gloomy and nocturnal world of the future, where the legal trade in organs and drugs flourishes, and all the characters are somehow connected with computer technology and virtual reality. The key characteristics of this world are loneliness – so all-encompassing that the main interlocutor of the protagonist Jimi is his “smart home”, and transhumanism. The same Naima is not just a cyborg: she has neither a memory of the past, nor most of human needs. This is a world in which people gradually stop being human and stop loving.
If the merits of “Nirvana” were limited to the creation of a holistic and impressive dystopia, it would be no more than a second “Johnny Mnemonic”. But for Salvatores, cyberpunk and virtual reality are just an excuse to talk about more serious things.
What is the main idea of the film?
Telling the story of the programmer Jimi, Salvatores touches on one of the most interesting topics of world philosophy: the topic of the relationship between the Creator and his creatures. Jimi acts simultaneously in two guises: a lonely man who has lost his beloved woman, and a bored god who creates his own worlds, in this case – the world of the computer game “Nirvana”. For the programmer, the game is just a set of codes, but for Solo, the main character of the game, this is the only reality available.
Solo is doomed to endless repetition of the same scenario, in which the mafia is looking for him, he runs around some backyard, communicates with the same woman named Maria, dies and is resurrected again. Trying to understand the meaning of what is happening, Solo comes to the conclusion that someone is behind all this. Once he manages to see his Creator, that is, Jimi, and even come into contact with him, which, in principle, is not provided for by the scenario of the game.
The analogy is more than transparent: perhaps we also live in someone’s game, and our world is a product of the consciousness of an unknown programmer. If we accept the theory of transmigration of souls, we, too, are doomed to return again and again until we move to a qualitatively new level. And only those who manage to achieve nirvana manage to get out of this virtual game. As for the creator of this world, then, unlike Jimi’s motives, we can only guess about his motives.
What drives Jimi?
The main character of the film, tired of the loneliness and aimlessness of his existence, gets involved in a dangerous adventure: he wants to find Lisa, who left him a year ago, and erase “Nirvana”. He decides to destroy his brainchild exclusively at the request of Solo – a creature that begs the creator: “Erase me.”
Jimi understands very well that, firstly, the destruction of Nirvana will also be its end – if not as a physical body, then as a programmer for Okosama Starr and a full-fledged citizen, and secondly, that the emergence of an independent consciousness in Solo is a consequence of infection a virus, that is, someone’s malicious interference. Nevertheless, the programmer leaves his comfortable home and goes to the dangerous areas of Marrakech and Bombay City. Why? Because he also wants to get out of his matrix and live at least a little human life, where there are real sensations, communication with other people and, most importantly, meaning.
What is the meaning of Lisa’s image?
The image of Lisa (like the images of other heroines of the film: Naima and Maria) is extremely ambiguous. At first glance, we have before us an ordinary love line, echoing the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus, who descended to the underworld of death for his beloved. But in fact, Jimi is looking for his own illusions and chasing a chimera. It is no coincidence that Lisa is no longer in the real world, she died. From that woman who exists in the consciousness of the hero, there are only memories recorded on a chip, from which we learn that one of Lisa’s desires was to dissolve in the hot water of the bathroom, that is, not to be. Philosophically, the search for Lisa is the embodiment of the futility and illusory nature of all our efforts, especially when you consider that at some point Naima takes Lisa’s place.
What is the meaning of Naima’s image?
The vast majority of viewers see in the extravagant Naima – a girl with blue eyes and blue hair – nothing more than a talented hacker and a typical assistant to the protagonist. If Joystick – another hero’s assistant – helps Jimi navigate in Marrakesh and Bombay City, then Naima helps to penetrate the Okosama Starr network, take money from there and erase Nirvana. Since Naima is a cyborg, implanting Lisa’s memories into his consciousness, at some point Jimi begins to perceive her as the avatar of his beloved woman. It seems that Naima is not indifferent to him, or, in any case, plays on his side. In fact, Naima plays on his side and his games.
The meaning of these games is revealed only in the finale, when we see a very fast rewind of all the hero’s memories, and several times we are shown a close-up of the port with a chip in Naima’s forehead. It is obvious that Jimi now exists in the same way as Lisa’s personality – virtually; his memory was rewritten to external media at the time he hacked into the corporation’s network. But why did Naima need Jimi’s memory?
The answer is given by Naima herself, who tells Jimi about her philosophy of “Karma Yoga”: she strives to do the impossible. In this case – to outplay the powerful corporation “Okosama Starr” and deprive it of “shadow capital”. After picking up Jimi and Joystick at the gas station, Naima admits that she has been tracking their movements for a long time, but does not say how long. And here we come to a question that usually remains behind the scenes: who introduced the virus into Nirvana? Who “brought to life” her unfortunate character Solo and set the whole chain of events in the film? Among the heroes of the film, only one person could have done this, and it is no coincidence that it ends with a mocking message “Naima in touch.”
What makes Nirvana unique?
Thus, “Nirvana” can be compared to a nesting doll: first we see a typical cyberpunk story about the confrontation between a corporation and hackers, inside which a non-Buddhist parable about the exit from the matrix is hidden. But there is another story hidden inside the parable: both Solo, the poor fellow from a computer game, and his creator Jimi, and the corporation that hired this creator, is actually invisibly and effectively controlled by someone from the outside. And therefore, if you suddenly urgently wanted to erase your game, think carefully: perhaps this is not an epiphany. Perhaps a virus was just introduced into your mind.