In a plot that questions humanity from both a psychological and futurist angle, Natural City imbues the ancient innate drive to live long enough to conquer death once and for all.
Taking place in a 2080 South Korea, Natural City follows the journey of R (starring Yoo Ji-tae) – a soldier caught in conflict between the woman he loves (starring Seo Lin) and the profession he swore his oath to. Similar to the storyline of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, R’s job is for he and his team to locate and destroy renegade cyborgs, whether they be military commando types or “doll” companions. The woman (Ria) he loves, however, happens to be a cyborg herself, only days away from her 3-year-life-limitation expiration date.
The world is populated by a diverse combination of humans, robots, and cyborgs, and yet bias remains as humans dominate the world, in fear of the implications to a cyborg that decides their own fate. For R, he’s already decided where he stands in question of Ria’s fate – no matter what, he’s going to figure out a way to save her life.
This is when we’re introduced to what are known as Combiners, whose underground profession happens to be the integration of a human “soul” with that of robotic machinery. This comes as a great opportunity for R, who merely needs to find a suitable human shell for Ria to crossover to. The problem, however, is that R’s partner Noma (starring Yoon Chan) has long suspected his nefarious activities in exploiting renegade cyborgs for his dying love. When Noma finds out about R’s attempts to use an orphaned prostitute named Cyon (starring Lee Jae-eun) to “combine” with that of Ria, he does everything he can to not only stop R, but to convince him of what he once was.
While certainly a dystopian plot, the prospect of conflict between humans, cyborgs, and robots is very real. It mirrors well the modern day conflict today between Transhumanists and Neo-Luddites. Where a large group of us wish to use advanced science and technology to help us become cyborgs and eventually post-human, thus achieve indefinite life extension, there are those who believe humanity is perfect where it is today, if not a few years still too far, and that cyborgs should be exterminated while robots are left dumb and limited.
Still today we have an incredibly hard time convincing government organizations in helping sponsor and fund anti-aging research and longevity-based treatments. The Deathist culture is, ironically, very much alive and well, breeding the idea that any attempts to achieve indefinite life extension, whether it be by organic means or the merging of biology and technology, is a declaration of war against humanity itself. The idea then that future governments will try to stifle anti-aging innovations and limit the amount of years robots and cyborgs can live isn’t that farfetched.
In Natural City, R maintains that drive to live and for others to live as well, no matter if they’re human or cyborg. The South Korean government’s attempts in the film to dictate the choices of others in matters of life and death resonate the goals of our own Neo-Luddites. But any attempt to prevent indefinite life extension is, in itself, anti-human nature – or as British author and physician Arthur Conan Doyle once said:
“Some believe what separates men from animals is our ability to reason. Others say it’s language or romantic love, or opposable thumbs. Living here in this lost world, I’ve come to believe it is more than our biology. What truly makes us human is our unending search, our abiding desire for immortality.” – Arthur Conan Doyle
Natural City’s R, similar to Blade Runner’s Roy Batty, is a symbolic figurehead to the Transhumanist cause. R looked past the human-designed prejudice towards cyborgs and instead saw beauty. As a result, he made it his mission to ensure that Ria be given the chance to live, where others would rather see her downfall. For those of us who consider ourselves Transhumanist, our goals aren’t that different.
Natural City was an excellent re-envisioning of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and complimented well to previous attempts to immortalize his story via film. Watching this would be as important as watching Blade Runner, for it speaks volumes of not only the Transhumanist cause today, but the subsequent struggle we will embark in our near future.