San Junipero is the fourth episode in series three of Black Mirror. This program strikes so close to integral aspects of human desire as to be very hard to watch at times. There are no disturbing images in the program and nothing frightening or disgusting. But the basic theme will, I think, come too close for comfort -- at least, this was my impression.
A shy young woman enters a bar in a seaside town called San Junipeo. It seems to be around 1986 -- the movie theater is showing The Lost Boys and, in a store, we see a display of TVs on which Max Headroom appears. The young woman meets another girl who is fleeing an obnoxious ex-lover. This girl, who is Black, invites the shy young woman to sit with her to repel the boy. The two women are attracted to one another and the Black girl, dressed in the fashion of Prince's Apollonia in Purple Rain, makes a sexual pass. The shy girl retreats but is obviously intrigued. A week later, she returns to the bar and finds the Black woman and they drive out of town to a lavish beach front house where they have sex. It is the shy girl's first sexual encounter. A week later, the shy girl looks for her lover but can't find her. She returns week after week to San Junipero, a gorgeous-looking resort, but can't find the other woman. She even goes out to a place called The Quagmire, a BDSM bar next to an oil refinery spouting hell-fire. But she can't find her lover there either. Someone suggests to her that she try other times. This is the first moment in which we sense that there is something peculiar about San Junipero, something uncanny other than the town's majestic beauty, nestled in mountains next to a turbulent southern sea. (The film was shot in South Africa.) A week later -- and each trip to San Junipero occurs at weekly intervals -- the shy girl goes to San Junipero in 1970. We know the era by the movie showing in the theater, by the clothing and hairstyles, by the music in the disco, and by the type of video games in the bars. She doesn't find her lover in 1970. She comes back to San Junipero in 1996, but, also, can't find the Black girl. Finally, she meets her in 2002. The Black girl says that she doesn't want a permanent relationship because she was married for a long time and wants to honor the memory of that marriage. There is a fight and the shy girl climbs up onto a building, perhaps, threatening suicide. The Black girl ascends to sit next to her on the cornice of the theater. They talk about the people in the street below and the Black girl speculates that, at least, 80% of them are dead. Then, they agree that they will meet in their real lives.
If spoilers bother you, stop reading here.
We learn that both women are elderly and suffering from dementia. As therapy, the women have been equipped with a memory stick inserted into their skulls and, once a week, the computer stimulates their brains to imagine that they are young again, sexually active, on the prowl in bars looking for lovers in the fictional San Junipero. (This is a variant on nostalgia therapy now practiced at memory care centers with Alzheimer's patients.) When you die, you may elect to have the memory stick permanently implanted in the computer simulation (or virtual reality) of San Junipero. As it happens, the African-American woman was married for 41 years. After a rich life, the woman's husband died and, because he was religious, refused to "pass over" into the computer simulation, preferring, presumably, the promise of Christian Heaven. His widow feels guilty that she is not willing to gamble on Jesus and Heaven and, instead, is inclined to opt for San Junipero. The shy woman is a lesbian who came-out to her religious family when she was 21, was rejected by them, and became quadriplegic after a car crash -- she was paralyzed before she could have sex. The emotional charge contained in San Junipero's final ten minutes is overwhelming. The fundamental question is whether the African-American woman will elect to join her husband in Heaven or decide to "pass-over" into San Junipero.
This issues raised by this show are central, heart-breaking, and almost unbearably poignant. Christianity insists upon the "resurrection of the body" -- we say this every Sunday in the Apostle's Creed. Hence, there is a sense, even in Christianity, that no good life is possible without the pleasures of the flesh. Thus, in Heaven we will be restored to our bodies. But what bodies? The decrepit flesh of our old age or the vibrant, sexually energized bodies of our youth? If you could live forever in a wild night chasing through bars full of beautiful people and, then, at last finding the perfect one, would you want this? Don't think about these things too much or your eyes will brim with tears and, for a time, you will be unable to go forward.