Neo-noir Netflix series “Altered Carbon” considers a future of disposable bodies

By Erin Steffens For Inland 360

What happens when humanity learns how to live forever?

That’s the premise of the Netflix original series “Altered Carbon,” now streaming and based on a book by the same name by Richard K. Morgan.

It’s a show whose concept is as strange as it is intriguing. In this fictional future, humanity has devolved into Grounders, who live on the ground of a dirty world; and Meths, who live above the clouds in towering spires and have all but achieved immortality.

In this future world, everyone’s mind is disconnected at the age of 1 from their body, called a “sleeve.” Their consciousness is uploaded to a stack. There is a shortage of sleeves and a plethora of stacks sitting around waiting for a sleeve — any sleeve.

Thus, bodies are not bodies but shells for a person’s consciousness to wear. For many, this blurs the line between right and wrong. Harm to a sleeve becomes mere property damage. Religious beliefs conflict with the morality of resleeving and death is divided between “sleeve death” and “stack (or actual) death.”

With a person’s body reduced to property, this lends itself to graphic scenes rife with sex and nudity spanning all 10 episodes. By episode four the vast majority of these scenes, where the camera pans a little too low and stays in the bedroom a bit too long, become fewer and farther between and the plot becomes more complex. This is often the move of a show that is insecure about its ability to hook the audience — the concentration of shock factor and sexual intrigue is at the beginning because its other elements are not strong enough to hook the audience from the outset.

But “Altered Carbon” goes beyond shock: the plot is strong, the visuals are striking, its premise is intriguing and the strong personality and depth of characters is impressive. Switching characters from body to body offers actors a challenge. So convincing is the acting that it’s easy to forget these are actors and not actually transferred consciousnesses.

At its core, “Altered Carbon” is a detective story set in a complex world. The acting is brilliant and visuals are compelling. It strives to be more than escapist entertainment. It is a devastating look at how humanity’s choices can affect its future.

Steffens is a senior at Lewis-Clark State College majoring in creative writing. She is also the assistant editor of the Pathfinder, the student newspaper.

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