Monday, May 6, 2019
An Examination of Zima Blue
One of the surprisings offerings on Netflix recently is an anthology show called: Love, Death, and Robots. Made up of eighteen animated short stories, as the title should suggest they touch on the various genres of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and even comedy. All eighteen episodes are at least good with a few that have to be called outright mind blowing. Understand, the animation styles vary greatly and there are a couple of episodes that have sexually explicit scenes, think Game of Thrones level stuff. While my inner teenage boy enjoyed the racer episodes, there was one in particular that was so philosophically engaging it was on a whole other level by itself.
The episode, Zima Blue is set in the future and opens with a journalist sitting inside a high-speed watercraft on the way to interview the reclusive artist know as Zima. As the journalist speeds towards Zima's island home, she wonders about the artist and his early history. Apparently, Zima's public history isn't well known and consists mainly of rumor. It is widely thought that Zima began his artistic career painting portraits of people, but that he found it limiting. So he began looking for truth and a deeper meaning to existence by stretching his imagination out to the cosmos itself. This process involved him integrating advanced cybernetic enhancements with body to the point he could stroll on frozen, airless moons and wade in rivers of molten lava.
This search lead to him to paint grand space murals where he eventually began including a tiny blue square in the middle of the canvas. Over the decades, the blue squares in his work grew in size, to the point that was the only thing on the canvas. But by that time his canvases were hundreds and even thousands of feet high and wide. Remember, a good part of this story takes place several centuries ahead of our time.
Zima's work eventually moved out into space with him painting the rings around an unnamed gas giant planet along with other mega-engineering artistic works. In spite of his critical acclaim and popular fame, Zima was still unsatisfied and began making plans for his ultimate and final work.
The journalist arrives a Zima's private island and meets the man as soon as she steps off the watercraft. As far as the journalist knew, Zima's cybernetic enhancements were the result of operations that extended over his long lifetime. Zima escorts the journalist over to a nondescript pool that is being built and quickly tells her a very different story.
Zima's real story begins with a young woman living on Earth somewhere in the San Francisco area. This young woman was a genius when it came to “practical robotics” creating scores of them to perform odd jobs around her house. Zima goes on to explain this woman was quite fond of the her little robot creation that scrubbed the blue ceramic tiles on the side of her pool. Ceramic tiles whose color the manufacturer had named zima blue.
As the years went by, the robot designer upgraded the pool cleaning machine giving it a color vision system and a brain large enough to process the visual data. The upgrades continued with her installing systems that allowed the robot make its own decisions about how to clean the pool. In stages it became more aware of its surroundings. The pool cleaning robot was passed on to family members when its designer passed away. They too kept installing upgrades to the point what was once a simple machine designed to scrub pool tiles became a sentient being that took the name “Zima Blue.”
Later that night with the pool completed and filled with water, the journalist watches from the stands with other spectators as Zima dives in. As the famous artist swims, he begins to shut down his higher software functions and shed all the hardware upgrades. What is left is the original pool cleaning robot that immediately returns to the simple task it was designed.
I had a hard time dealing with the implications of this episode the first time I watched it. The basic premise being that a person can return to simpler times, like an adult wanting to shed all his or her responsibilities and become a child again. I understand the desire, being an adult has always been a pain in the ass. But everything I have been taught says returning to “simpler times” is not only a mistake but is in fact an illusion.
Yes, there are different levels to returning to simpler times. I would be quite happy to move out of the suburban, money hole mcmansion I live, and buy a much smaller house. I'm sure the same is true for changing careers. Stories abound of unhappy people leaving high pressure jobs after they realize the monetary rewards do not make their careers sustainable. There is no reason to die an early death doing a job you hate just to provide materialistic advantages.
In Zima Blue's case though, his desire to return to the one task that made him happy was the answer to his search for the ultimate truth. Real life human beings search for a grand cosmic truth will be greatly enhanced when we realize we'll never be granted that privilege.