How the original ‘Ghost in the Shell’ changed sci-fi and the way we think about the future


At the end of “Ghost in the Shell,” in an unsettling twist that speaks to the deeper philosophical meaning of the movie, Major actually merges with her ostensible enemy, the Puppet Master, who is not chained to a body. The old Major does not exist, and neither does the Puppet Master, but rather they’ve created a new being, who’s free to roam around what Major calls “the net,” which is “vast and infinite.”


You know what else is vast and infinitie? The Matrix, where human beings live out programmed lives while their physical bodies atrophy in pods. As in “Ghost in the Shell,” their memories have been implanted. The question of what is “real” and what is virtual — and whether the difference even matters — is at the heart of both movies.


“Ghost and the Shell” and “The Matrix” became central to what was known as “cyberpunk” sci-fi in the 1990s. It’s often remembered for its aesthetics — the dark trench coats, that mix of grimy urban sprawl with futuristic computer enhancement — but cyberpunk was also a movement that, at the end of the millennium, challenged people to think about how technology would fundamentally change what it means to be human.