Science Fiction Film & Television

Playing human

Anthropomorphism and visions of the Anthropocene in 2.0

Science Fiction Film & Television (2021), 14, (3), 333–353.

Abstract

While Indian cinema has a rich tradition of ‘creature features‘, these films have traditionally drawn from Indigenous myth and folklore, rather than engaging with the environmentalist themes that are a staple in Western creature features. S. Shankar’s 2.0 (2018) marked an important moment in Indian cinema as the first true example of a mainstream Indian film that is unequivocally categorisable as ecohorror. However, the emergence of such a film text is not devoid of a historical context, nor is the near-absence of environmentalism in previous Indian ‘creature features’ devoid of reason. This essay is an attempt to trace how a film like 2.0 emerges within the Indian cultural context, how it assimilates prefigured Indigenous ideas as well as culturally translocated and subsequently Indianised ideas, and what new meaning is created in the process. My discussion primarily revolves around the theme of anthromorphism, which is commonly used in the visual and narrative portrayal of monsters in ‘creature features’. My arguments, while inter-linked, are divisible into four broad parts. Firstly, I locate the differences in Indian and Western ‘creature features’ in the differing cultural perceptions of anthropomorphism and anthropomorphised beings. For this, I draw on Paul Ricoeur’s theory of threefold mimesis, which links narratives to particular cultural repositories, and James Clifford’s notion of ‘traveling cultures’, which describes the modification of those repositories through cultural exchange. I locate the Indian economic liberalisation in the 1990s as an important historical juncture for the modification of the cultural repository. To make my case, I refer to existing criticism of Indian sf, marking the shifts from the post-colonial era through the post-1990s era. Secondly, I engage with the visual form of 2.0’s monster, focusing on the incorporation of both nature and technology in its design, and how it is significant. I draw from Western posthumanist theory, especially Donna Haraway’s concept of the ‘humanimal‘, and compare it with the Indigenous ecocentric imagination of the world where humans and nonhumans are kindred figures. Thirdly, I argue that the film, both at the narrative and visual level, constructs a vision of the Anthropocene that is not anthropocentric. It accomplishes this by consciously de-centring human characters, shifting the focus to everything that is of humans. Fourthly, I consolidate the previous argument by analysing how the film makes use of humour, especially dark humour, in order to accentuate its decentring of humans by the anthropomorphised, or human-like. Looking ahead, I propose the likelihood of 2.0 being the first of many Indian ‘creature features’ that mark a cultural shift from the mythological paradigm to the environmentalist paradigm. As such, a close analysis of the film as text and its corresponding context, focused on how it draws from and modifies its cultural repository, is significant in terms of laying the groundwork for future discussion.

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Lahiri, Dibyajyoti