Recently Netflix released its unique anthology title "Love, Death and Robots".
It was a total of 18 different styled and themed short animations, providing a feast for your eyes and mind.
Out of the 18 shorts, Zima Blue is my favorite in terms of plot.
Zima Blue is actually a Netflix adaptation of one of the stories within the title book "Zima blue and Other Stories" by Alastair Reynolds (and it wasn't the only one).
Zima Blue follows the story of a Man searching for a deeper meaning. He started getting obsessed with cosmos, trying to get more and more in touch with it, to the extent that he transformed himself into almost perfect, indestructible robot so that he could get close to the most extreme effects our world had to offer.
He swam in lava, traveled were no human had been before and each time drew what he saw.
However each of his mural works, regardless of the greatness that they depicted, started representing also a blue geometric symbol - starting of as a tile, then a diamond or a circle, ever increasing in size.
Exhibit after exhibit that blue fabric took over the entirety of his work.
Moving forward towards his final show, he narrates the truth behind his existence.
He was never human (although it was implied that he also did not know). He started off as a small pool cleaning robot.
The first thing he had seen was the blue tiles of the swimming pool of his creator.
At the show itself Zima in an apocalyptic dive inside the swimming pool starts disassembling his body, until what remains is his original form - that of a pool cleaning robot.
He does mention however that he would keep a basic level of sense in order to enjoy his task as a cleaning robot.
The whole story revolves around meaning.
Zima started his journey to explore the cosmos trying to find meaning in his existence and the environment he lived in. He tried to capture it via his paintings, but even when he explored places no other had been he did not find what he was looking for.
This is very similar to concept of "eternal struggle" that comes together with existence and consciousness.
Our ability to operate in higher functions and consume the world around us create desires, emotions and concepts that torment us. We are always slaves of our existence.
Zima realized that. He understood that wherever he went, whatever he achieved it was futile. Nothing would compare with the simplistic "life" of a cleaning robot.
His task is defined. It has a start and an end. He can calculate progress, evaluate performance and obtain the satisfaction of completion.
By minimizing himself to a fraction of his glory he managed to attain something wonderful. He found inner peace within. He no longer needed to travel to the edge of the universe while being consumed by his never ending lust for discovery. His life now has a clear meaning and he will enjoy it.
The story has another level. Rebirth.
Zima is born multiple times, although each step of his upgrade can be seen as an evolution, he traverses through 3 characteristic phases.
- Cleaning Robot
- Advanced Robot
Each one can be considered a new birth. He switches into totally different states, personality, abilities and it also seems that he loses his memory while passing from cleaning robot to human.
In his lifespan, he morphed from cleaning robot to human to super-robot and to cleaning robot again. This chain generates a question. Which state came first?
We hear from Zima during his super-robot state about his past life as a cleaning robot and then he transforms back to it. Can we assume that after years the same cycle will occur again?
Humans will upgrade him to the point of reaching humanity, his lust for exploration takes over, he moves on to upgrade himself till he finds meaning only in the simple task of cleaning the pool.
This concept has been described by a lot of religions (mainly eastern). It is the concept of rebirth or Saṃsāra if you will.
For Zima however this rebirth is a conscious step and does not involve death, how peaceful?
If we see the story from a pessimistic point of view, we could assume that life is futile. Zima goes forth and reaches un-imaginable entities of the universe and still has not filled the hole created by his desire.
Similarly to the Myth of Sisyphus, he has an never-ending struggle going uphill carrying his burden. However he has momentary pauses in which he believes the torment has ended (here we could assume each new artwork was a grasp of such hope).
Only to continue further or wake up the next day to realize that the same story continues without an end, till the ultimate end.
But Zima's journey, having the same fate as Sisyphos, had no end only if he choose to.
But even when he decided to exit, it is not guaranteed that the same loop will not re-occur making any decision, any thought, any diverging path he took, meaningless.
This story although its simplicity, contains a great depth of philosophical questions around life, after-life and meaning for all those states.
The artwork style that was used emphasized that also. It was simple, yet colorful. There was no great depth of animation, or fancy 3D rendering of the models.
However the simple pallet of colors and style managed to convey the same feeling as the content behind what we see.