Monday, March 21, 2011

Second Bodies by Sandra Danilovic, Documentary Film Review

"There is something stronger than sex or happiness: the passion for illusion." Jean Baudrillard, the French philosopher, theorist and social activist said this well before Linden Lab designed Second Life, a 3D virtual world created by its residents (people like you) that's bursting with entertainment, experiences, and opportunity.

If anything was possible and you could be anyone or do anything.... what would it be? Want to fly across the ocean or perhaps the universe? Care to change your body into a perfect physical specimen or maybe another gender or something completely different? Drive a Rolls Royce, work on Wall Street, dunk a basketball? Want to dabble with virtual reality for awhile, even if it means gaining some new perspective on your current situation?
Second Bodies cover image
I just had the pleasure of watching an Indie film, Second Bodies, about one woman's experience in the gaming world of Second Life. The 2009, 46 minute documentary is written, produced and directed by Sandra Danilovic of Toronto. It won Best Documentary at the 2010 San Francisco New Media Film Festival.

Elements of beauty, escape, personal journey, fear, sex and more are intricately woven into both Second Bodies and the online experience. Danilovic, as actress and director, does an excellent job presenting the philosophies inherent to the system without spelling everything out for the audience. In fact, I found this film subtly artistic; it's likely many people may not be ready to appreciate the scope of intelligence within. If one goal of the documentary is to get us to open our eyes and learn more about ourselves, this film passes with flying colors.

Second Bodies sex scene
After all, can Sandra Danilovic explain attraction, love, reality and experience for the rest of us? Of course not, and she's not attempting that. What's great about this film is what it achieves without trying to; it gets the viewer pondering subjects as basic (and simultaneously profound) as self-image and self-worth which are perhaps now more understandable because of this "video game."

Fellow cast members include Danilovic's friends, Annette and Michele, who help explain the intrigue of the Second Life experience as well as the benefits.

Annette's furry avatar
Annette describes herself as an educator, bookworm, bi-polar married person who is often shy and hides out with her husband and friends in her apartment. In Second Life, "I feel confident, attractive, funny and interesting, like a more confident version of myself." Annette has tried avatars like Goth Chicks, but in the film adorns the body of a Furry, a cross between human and animal with fox mouth, big ears, long tail, paws and a rather sexy-while-furry body.

Michele says she feels... "free, like a little kid experiencing something new for the first time. I get to do things I couldn't possibly do in real life, like flying." In this life, Michele faces the challenges after entering the real world with birth complications that left her suffering from cerebral palsy and eventually confined to a wheelchair. In the gaming world, Michele can do anything she wants.

"Do you think you're beautiful?" Danilovic asks, both herself and her friends.

"I wish I had my avatar's waist," Annette says jokingly. "My furry avatar is a way to distinguish myself from all the avatars that are perfect renditions of what bodies should be."

Michele answers, "I'm not the conventional beauty type like Kim Basinger or Nicole Kidman... I don't look like that... some would describe me as exotic looking. I feel loved by my son. He tells me all the time," she says referring to Seth, her 6-year-old who seems to appreciate his single mother at just the right moments.

Sandra Danilovic, writer director and producer
Perhaps Danilovic was destined to experience the gaming world and make this film. Her earliest childhood memories of beauty involve two women: her mother and Barbie. In the game she gets to experience either version, but there's much more to it than that. From Sandra's own diary in 1996; "Am I just imagining my own pain or is it real? I don't know what reality is."

Another huge element of both the game and movie is understanding experience itself. Perhaps we need to step outside of our bodies to experience something else and thus more fully appreciate our actual reality.

We have seen it in the past and believe that technology will continuously get better with each coming year. My guess is Second Life and other virtual worlds will forever get closer to everyday realities until we have trouble distinguishing between the two. The question ultimately becomes; which world would we rather life in?

"We no longer partake of the drama of alienation, but are in the ecstasy of communication." - Jean Baudrillard

Second Bodies, a Independent documentary film by Sandra Danilovic, 5 out of 5 stars rating

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