What is the metaverse? To understand the metaverse, we should open the trunk in the attic where we keep our stuff from the 1990s. We also need Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crush, the story of a parallel world, all-digital and residing on the web. In typical nineties-cyberpunk fashion, the in-universe real world is crushed under out-of-control capitalism and existence is twofold: real and virtual. What happens in the metaverse, like being infected by neurolinguistic viruses, affect the real body, as well. This dualism is reprised in the world of expanded realities, and may be something to think about once the film festival will be over.
In Mandala – A Brief Moment in Time, entering an extra-corporeal dimension is recast as entering a Buddhist temple. The understanding of Virtual Reality as an alternative, parallel, or complementary environment compared to corporeal reality is carried out in explicitly Buddhist terms. Often enough, VR producers have a penchant for Buddhism. Why? Maybe because the inherent existence of things, according to Buddhism, is not self-sustaining or self-reliant. Emptiness, non-essence, is the primary condition. Existence is an illusion – in some way, ‘virtual’ – and the attachment to illusional needs is a prime cause of suffering. Our immersive experience is straightforward: we step into the temple, take off our self, helped by a flesh-and-bones monk, then project ourselves into a universe that exists in the mind only, and where we act by means of an avatar that represent our souls, hungry as they are of material stuff. Conceptually, the structure of the piece is simplistic, and is the usual westernized Buddhist adaptation we seem to love. What is interesting, here, is the use of VR in a journey that ends up back on our own self-image. It is interesting because, for a short while, it prevents you from pushing on the throttle of illusion of the sensed world to take us back exactly there – on our corporeal and experiential dimension.
This VR piece is a bit naïve to be honest, but also funny and original (the set-up is that of a collaborative escape room). Its meaning becomes apparent when we take our visor off and we appreciate the effects of a virtual journey into the real world.
This attempt to turn the metaverse into a world that is blended, rather than parallel, to ours is, in our opinion, a field that may prove fecund and promising – that is, if we take Stephenson’s lesson to heart.
MANDALA – A BRIEF MOMENT IN TIME
by Thomas Villepoux
(China, France, 45’)