Virtual objects, virtual grief: Reflections on black mirror

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Black Mirror, produced by Charlie Brooker, is a British miniseries which deals with the impact of contemporary life, especially the intensive use of the internet or virtual reality, on the future of humanity. The first episode of Season 2, “Be Right Back”, is the story of Martha (Hayley Atwell), recently widowed, whose young husband Ash (Domhnall Gleeson) has died in a car accident, leaving her pregnant. In despair, she decides to use a special new service which is still in its experimental stages: a company scans the “virtual personality” of her late husband (including Facebook statuses, tweets, emails, pictures, video clips and anything else he put on the internet) and produces a computer program that constitutes an exact simulacrum of him. Next, to achieve maximum similarity, the software scans the more personal and private parts of his virtual personality. Using his private emails, hundreds of videos and skype conversations, the computer can perfectly reproduce his voice, accent, typical ways of speaking. The result is a perfect imitation of Ash. After conducting never-ending telephone conversations with him, Martha decides to start phase two of the experimental process and acquires a human-sized doll that is a copy of the body of her dead husband, which also speaks in his voice and acts according to his personality traits as registered by the virtual database. The doll looks like Ash (though, Martha admits, younger and more handsome, but this is because the photographs on whose basis the virtual effigy was made were “flattering” ones of the kind that people tend to put on Facebook, and on which they look better and younger); it responds like Ash (its tactile features are identical or very similar to human flesh and skin), and it acts like Ash (it speaks in his voice with idiosyncrasies and behaviors that are closely reminiscent of him). But even though the reproduction appears to be a perfect version - perhaps too perfect - of Ash, and doesn’t suffer from his many human shortcomings (for instance, his tendency to get sucked up by surfing the internet, his average sexual functioning and so on) while being wholly dedicated to please her, Martha actually becomes disgusted as the differences between the virtual and the real, living Ash, become apparent.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPsychoanalytic Perspectives on Virtual Intimacy and Communication in Film
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages8
ISBN (Electronic)9780429826979
ISBN (Print)9781138329379
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 selection and editorial matter, Andrea Sabbadini, Ilany Kogan and Paola Golinelli.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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