Traveling to Alternate Realities

05 January of 2012 by


The cyberspace in Johnny Mnemonic

As a travel magazine, we talk a lot about various destinations around the world, share the places we liked, the one to avoid, the gear we take with us and other very down to earth matter of travelers.

  • Story Alex
  • Illustration Rubsy
  • Soundtrack of the report
  • Main Theme
  • Matrix

As you know from our manifesto, we also like to explore different universes in our imagination or with the help medias like movies and books. In this article we will study the representation of alternate realities in nine different movies.

We have divided the alternate realities in three different variations: the cyberspace, the duplicate realities and the dreams/memories. For each of this categories, we have chosen three movies that are perfect examples and illustrate the best the concept. From the twin world of the Matrix to the 3d visualization of Johnny Mnemonic we will see all kinds of variations around the ultimate nerd fantasy. And see what’s the travel potential of all these alternate realities.

Note: this article only focuses on movies because it’s easier for most of people to visualize those worlds that can be pretty complex to apprehend.

Spoiler alert: reading this article will ruin the plot of most of the movies we are talking about.

And enjoy the beautiful postcards created by Rubsy for the article. Will you get the ultimate nerd inside joke of those?

cy·ber·space – noun
1. the realm of electronic communication.

1. Cyberspace

The term Cyberspace was first coined in 1984 in the novel Neuromancer by William Gibson. It has been one of the main topic of modern science-fiction ever since being the base of an entire subgenre known as “Cyberpunk”. Usually set in dark and violent dystopian worlds, cyberpunk novels and films usually feature a virtual cyberspace where the characters escape reality.

1.1 Johnny Mnemonic

Click to: watch the trailer / go to the IMDB page

Johnny Mnemonic is based on a book by William Gibson and is the perfect example of cyberpunk literature adaptation. In the movie—and in all the books of Gibson’s universe—the hackers access the cyberspace using consoles that look like regular computers and special glasses. Sometime they have implants to make direct links from their brains to the computer. Occasionally, they can be wearing special gloves like in the movie but usually it’s just regular keyboards.

The cyberspace pictured in the movie is nothing like the real world except for that the hackers have human shaped avatars. The rest is just a fantasy of colours, 3d cubes and infinite flashing lines. All these are an abstract representation of the datas, the network, the storage and every other numerical components that forms the cyberspace.

Travel interest: a trip in this cyberspace is like one giant LSD experience of flashing lights and firing colours. We wouldn’t recommend staying for too long there.

1.2 The Lawnmower Man

Click to: watch the trailer / go to the IMDB page

The Lawnmower Man is a really cool movie but isn’t set in a cyberpunk world. It’s closer to the world that we live in. The main character, played by Pierce Brosnan, is a scientist who works with extremely advanced virtual reality technologies that were far from exist when the movie was released.

In the film characters go into the cyberspace using similar devices that in Johnny Mnemonic: computer glasses and electronic gloves. The representation of the cyberspace is quite similar in the look of the CGI but it’s also a lot less abstract. It represents a simplified version of the real world and in his way it might be more adequate to call it a virtual reality than cyberspace. But the idea behind those terms is the same. Also the avatars looks pretty similar.

Travel interest: would be probably fun if you are a 6-year old who never played any video games.

1.3 Tron

Click to: watch the trailer / go to the IMDB page

The two Tron movies offer a fantastic trip in the cyberspace. The concept is quite like Johnny Mnemonic and the typical cyberpunk novels. The cyberspace represents the “inside” of a computer. But instead of representing the datas, network, etc… with abstract lights and cubes, they are represented with characters, vehicles, elevators, discs, etc. which we found to be a very interesting vision of the numeric world. We like both movies but the first one was such a novelty that it remains one of our favorite movies ever (with The Goonies but it has nothing to do with the subject).

One important thing to notice is that the characters don’t “connect” to the world of Tron, they are actually sent into it using a sort of laser than scans and send the people into the mainframe.

Travel interest: As a travel destination, the inside of the mainframe sounds like the ultimate nerd fantasy. A lot more fun than Epcot center and Star Tours. But what if you get stuck there because of an evil CPU? Disneyland sounds safer.

Hi From The Matrix by Rubsy

re·al·i·ty – noun
1. the state or quality of being real.
2. resemblance to what is real.
3. a real thing or fact.

2. Duplicate Reality

2.1. The Matrix

Click to: watch the trailer / go to the IMDB page

The Matrix is probably the most difficult concept to apprehend for most of the non-scifi geeks. Basically the world that you see in the Matrix that looks like our Earth is actually a numeric world, a virtual and vivid representation only in the mind of the humans connected to it. The actual world is dark and chaotic with humans only living under the surface in Zion.

To add a layer of complexity, there’s also a visual alphanumeric representation of the Matrix made of green symbols that you can see on the monitors onboard Morpheus’ ship. It’s basically the computer code generating the Matrix, i.e. the world as we kind of know it.

This is the base concept of the duplicate realities: the characters that live in them don’t realize that they are not living in numeric world inside a computer. In the actual real world of the Matrix, their bodies are in a sort of plasma and the machine use their energy to feed themselves, like some sort of batteries. But their mind is living in a world entirely generated by a computer.

Travel interest: Since we already live in the Matrix, I have to say I’d love to travel to Zion and party with those guys. Remember the orgy in Matrix Reloaded?

2.2. ExistenZ

Click to: watch the trailer / go to the IMDB page

It’s one of the most amazing sci-fi movies about virtual reality. It has several similarities with the Matrix and with Inception. In ExistenZ the characters are playing a virtual reality game in which they connect to a duplicate world like in The Matrix.

It’s not easy to explain it without telling the ending of the story. But the basic idea of the movie is that there are several layers of virtual worlds in the film. Just like the dreams in Inception. In ExistenZ, people of the real world are playing a video game in a virtual reality in which they connect to another virtual world (in which they eventually even connect to one more virtual world). This is only revealed at the end of the movie though.

In the real world, the players connect to the game with electronic equipment that looks like the SQUID recorders from Strange Days. But in the virtual world, they use “pods” that are organic and connects to your body using a plug at the bottom of your spine. Honestly I found them quite disgusting. No way I’d use one of those to travel the world virtually!

Travel interest: If you like weird organic tech, that’s for you. I’ll pass on this one.

2.3 The 13th floor

Click to: watch the trailer / go to the IMDB page

This movie is a sort of mix between the two previous one. The main characters have build a simulated world inside of a computer and have a machine that allows them to actually transfer their mind in this world for a few hours. Things go wrong when they realize that the transfer might go both ways and that the characters from the simulation become self-conscious that they are only computer programs.

The final twist exactly the same as in ExistenZ as the hero realize that he is himself actually a computer generated character inside a simulation.

Travel interest: What if you could design you own computer simulation to travel too? Mine would be based on alcohol that doesn’t get you hungover, a sunny warm weather all year long, no money and mandatory nudism. Kinda like Burning Man all year long…

From your memory with love - total recall - by Rubsy

mem·o·ry – noun
1. the mental capacity or faculty of retaining and reviving facts, events, impressions, etc., or of recalling or recognizing previous experiences.

3. Dreams / Memories

3.1 Total Recall

Click to: watch the trailer / go to the IMDB page

The film, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, is an adaption of a great sci-fi novel by Philip K. Dick-a master of the genre. The main character decides to use the services of a company called Rekall that implants memories of virtual vacation when you can’t afford actual holidays or would like something a bit adventurous. But apparently things go wrong and the hero realize that he’s actually a secret freedom fighter from Mars. At the end of the movie, you realize that the whole adventure might have actually been the adventurous vacation memory implanted by Rekall.

The service provided by Rekall quite similar to a trip a different reality, a virtual one since it’s fabricated by the company. The world of this fake memory seems to be pretty similar to the world where the story takes place. But it’s possible that some elements like the fact that Mars has been colonized were actually created by Rekall thus making the alternative world, not a copy of the real one.

If everything goes well, the services of Rekall are actually a fantastic way to travel the world for cheap. And withouth living your hometown…

Travel interest: You can travel anywhere you want and be anyone you want. But the catch is that you only have memories of the travel experience. I’d rather be and travel where I can but actually live the whole thing.

3.2 Vanilla Sky

Click to: watch the trailer / go to the IMDB page

While the story is very different from Total Recall, the ending twist of the movie is exactly the same except that you get a real explanation. The character portrayed by Tom Cruise is actually living in a lucid dream while is body is in a cryogenic tank. The world of this dream is pretty similar to the real world to one exception, the sky is taken from a Monet painting which was chosen by the hero as part of the service provided by the Cryogenic company. There are different interpretations to the actual ending but the only variation are the length of the dreaming part. Was it all the film? After the crash? Etc. We’ll probably never know and people will keep talking about it on Internet forever.

Travel interest: Living with Penelope Cruz in a dream for the rest of my life? Sign me up.

3.3 Inception

Click to: watch the trailer / go to the IMDB page

Inception depicts the ultimate dream travelling fantasy. The story takes place in a world where some corporate spies manage to enter people’s mind using electronic equipments. Once there, they fabricate that persons dreams and usually try to steal some secrets by doing so. The dream sequences are in a world that looks like ours but is limited in size and “reacts” to what happens in the real world. Shaking the person in the real world creates an earthquake in the dream. And some items don’t react the same or obey to different laws of physics. For instance, Dom carries a spinning top that never stops spinning if he’s in a dream.

It gets really complicated when the main characters need to implant a memory in someones mind. In order to do that they need to repeatly create dreams inside the dreams to end up with a complex layering of reality that’s pretty hard to follow. It’s a really fascinating movie which completely distorts your perception of reality.

Travel interest: Travelling in someones mind sounds good to you? See all their twisted secrets and fantasy, then this is for you.

What about you? Would you like to travel using one of those means?

Steve Zissous - Life Aquatic by Hejorama

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  1. I just finished an epic story that would fit perfectly on this list, I was GLUED to it–“The Door Into Summer” by Robert A Heinlein.

    And Haha– I love those postcards! Especially the “From your memory with love” one.. probably because of the classy depiction of someone with three boobs.

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