The most polarizing sci-fi movie on HBO Max reveals the limits of a major tech trend

earlier this fallthe film don’t worry darling made the headlines amid controversy over backstage arguments between cast members.

But it turns out that the film’s sci-fi plot twist may prove more controversial than the long-running off-screen drama. Spoilers ahead for don’t worry darling.

don’t worry darling appears to be a simple tale about a 1950s suburban paradise, starring housewife Alice and her husband Jack, who works for a mysterious defense program known as “Project Victory.”

But Alice suspects the enigmatic leader of the Victory Project, Frank, of hiding something serious. Two-thirds into the film, it becomes clear that Alice’s suspicions are correct. His entire suburban existence in the company town of Victory, California is a complex lie, concocted by an extensive virtual reality program, which erased his memories of his real world.

In real life, Alice is a doctor who works long grueling hours, much to the chagrin of her husband, Jack. Meanwhile, Jack is actually Alice’s unemployed husband, who has been indoctrinated into misogynistic men’s rights ideology after listening to speeches by Frank – a fictionalized version of controversial psychologist Jordan Peterson.

Jack, along with the other Victory Project husbands, drugged his wife and placed her in a hyper-realistic virtual reality simulation. He claims this is to his advantage, as he thinks she was doing such a bad job – an assumption which Alice vehemently denies upon learning the truth.

Many critics have focused on the feminist themes of the film’s shocking plot, but what we want to know: don’t worry darlingthe premise Actually plausible? Could we all soon be trapped in a hyper-realistic virtual reality version of the Metaverse?

Elizabeth KensingerBoston College psychology professor who studies memory retrieval, says Reverse that “it is conceivable that there could be technology that could allow the brain to create entire worlds”.

Coil Science is a Reverse series that reveals the real (and fake) science behind your favorite movies and series.

Is the metaverse possible?

Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles) star in don’t worry darlinga virtual reality story gone horribly wrong.Pictures from Warner Bros.

Tech leaders like Mark Zuckerberg have proposed that the future of social media is through the metaverse – virtual reality simulations where you can interact with others in computer generated programs.

But could someone create a computer simulation with sensory experiences so realistic that they trick our brains into thinking the fake world is real? Maybe, say some experts.

“… our perception of the world is only a creation of our brain.”

Kensinger says that don’t worry darlingThe premise taps into a very human problem: distinguishing between imagined memories and lived experiences. If you’ve ever believed that you locked your door only to come home to find it unlocked, then you probably understand this concept.

“Reality monitoring is difficult because there are many similarities between the way the brain perceives the real world and how the brain conceived mentally created worlds,” says Kensinger.

She adds: “Although it is strange to think of it this way, our perception of the world is only a creation of our brain”.

We usually use cues to tell us what’s plausible and what isn’t – for example, you know you were only dreaming and not actually on a tropical beach vacation this morning because you’re sitting in your cabin in having lunch. But if you strip away those plausible clues, then Kensinger says it’s possible we could confuse the real world – the one we operate in – with the virtual world.

“It is conceivable that future technology could allow someone to enter a dream state to navigate an alternate reality that they would experience as if it were real,” Kensinger concludes.

Futuristic Andre Curry says that living permanently in the metaverse would be difficult due to the metabolic needs of the body, although in don’t worry darling, it is implied that Jack takes care of Alice’s biological needs like feeding. Curry says it would take a very empowering experience to make people want to tune into the VR of the film, because we would retain some awareness of our true selves in VR.

The trailer for don’t worry darling.

“You’d have to suppress their physical experience of the world, or make the virtual reality experience so compelling — the digital version of psilocybin, perhaps — that they just accepted it for the ride,” Curry says.

But Gualtiero Piccinini, associate director of the Center for Neurodynamics at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, tell Reverse he is skeptical for several reasons. For example, while the characters of don’t worry darling feel pain, eat and smell like we do in the real world, says Piccinini “neither tastes nor smells can be simulated using ordinary computer simulations”.

“I don’t see how we can achieve a hyper-reality indistinguishable from the real world,” adds Piccinini.

Could you erase someone’s memories and trap them in the metaverse?

In don’t worry darlingFrank (Chris Pine) has created an elaborate computer program that allows husbands to trick their wives into virtual reality.Pictures from Warner Bros.

The film’s plot only works because Jack traps Alice in the simulated reality, and the computer program effectively erases her real memories while she is in the simulation.

“Amnesia is a real thing, and there are recent experimental methods that have been successful in implanting and erasing simple memories in rats,” says Piccinini.

But other experts don’t think the outline of this film is as realistic.

“I think we’re a long way from erasing people’s memories,” Kensinger says.

That being said, Kensinger says the mind can bring long-forgotten details — like childhood acquaintances — back to the fore. Likewise, it’s not implausible that an alternate reality will come to mind so much that your brain temporarily believes it to be real.

“I think it’s common for us to focus on what’s in front of us and not think about other things that we know to be true,” says Kensinger.

Pierre Curry – who is also Andrew’s son – is a recent MSc graduate in Neuroscience at Birbeck College, University of London. He says Reverse that “people can have incidents where they lose all of their narrative memory structures, so the idea that memory cannot be replaced is not entirely true”, although it is debatable to what extent the erasure memory is possible.

Ultimately, Peter Curry says “people could probably fall into the metaverse.” Indeed, what Frank did in don’t worry darling is to create an illusion that tricks the brain’s mechanisms for inference – the process of making guesses about the world using evidence and reasoning. But he says it would be hard to maintain that illusion forever, as shown in the film when Alice begins to suspect something is wrong with the town of Victory.

“In short, we currently lack sufficient technology to fool the brain’s high-level inference mechanisms over long periods of time,” says Peter Curry.

What is the difference between our “false” lives and our real ones?

Can we completely blur the lines between our virtual selves and our real selves? It’s complicated, say the experts.Shutterstock

don’t worry darling blurs the line between fiction and reality. At the end of the film, Alice regains memories of her real life and immediately rejects her fictional life as a housewife. But her friend, Bunny, takes a different approach.

Unlike the other wives, Bunny has always known that her existence in suburban Victory isn’t technically real, but she tricks herself into believing it is, because a virtual reality with her fictional children is better than a real world in which they live. are dead.

As Bunny tells Alice, “They are real to me, Alice, for here my children are alive.”

“Our identity, the way we interact with others, and the decisions we make every day are affected by what we remember to be true from our past, whether those memories are accurate or not,” Kensinger says.

As the Metaverse becomes less hypothetical and more real, it’s possible to worry about the blurring of our fictional VR characters and our real-world memories. How do you know what is false and what is true?

Piccinini argues that if you can truly thrive in simulated reality, despite the current limitations of virtual reality, “then that’s the one and only self you have.”

It’s a scary idea don’t worry darling drills effectively at home.

don’t worry darling is now streaming on HBO Max.

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