The double-edged sword of technology in Scrapper and Past Lives

Charlotte Regan and Celine Song's debut features represent the conflicting attitudes towards the prominent role technology takes in modern life.


Clotilde Chinnici

Whenever my mum complains about “all these new technologies” as she calls them or how she has to keep up with her phone all the time, I find myself reminding her that if it wasn’t for our phones, and all the inconveniences they admittedly bring us, we would not be able to stay in contact every day despite living in two different countries. This debate around technology and its role in our lives is surely familiar to many; most of our daily lives have been taken over by technology with its groundbreaking possibilities and elaborate challenges. Charlotte Regan’s Scrapper and Celine Song’s Past Lives touch on this ambivalent relationship with technology, which can be a blessing and a curse in the same breath.

Scrapper and Past Lives may seemingly have little in common except for the fact that they both premiered at Sundance in 2023, attracting a healthy amount of buzz and critical acclaim. However, upon closer inspection, both films reflect on the ambivalent relationship with technology that has come to define our modern age, albeit in different ways. The question of technology may not even be overt nor a key plot point in either of the films, but it feels almost embedded within them, much in the way that technology is an ever-present constant in almost every single part of life.

Set in London, Scrapper explores the complicated relationship between twelve-year-old Georgie (Lola Campbell) and her estranged father Jason (Harris Dickinson) as he comes back into her life after the death of Georgie’s mother Vicky (Olivia Brady). On the other hand, Past Lives sees up-and-coming writer Nora (Greta Lee) reunite in New York with her childhood sweetheart Hae Sung (Teo Yoo), 24 years after they said goodbye to each other in South Korea when her family emigrated to Canada. Although they reconnected through social media twelve years before, their in-person stateside meeting is an emotional one.

Much of Scrapper is about Georgie’s process of grieving as she mourns the loss of her mother. Throughout the film, Georgie relives moments with her mother and tries to keep her memory alive in various ways, including re-watching a video of her on her phone. Interestingly, this is paralleled by her father. Jason also goes back to his phone in order to retrieve his own memory of Vicky through the last voice message she left him. Georgie’s repeated return to this one video, just like Jason’s going back to Vicky’s voicemail, shows how technology gives us the chance to store and record memories with people we care about the most; is the last thing she has of her mother, more than just a memory of their life together but a permanent and tangible record, physically stored in a phone, of the way she spoke and how she moved through the world.

Similarly, in Past Lives, this almost magical potential of video technology gives Nora and Hae Sung another chance. The two first reconnect through Facebook, which may be a common experience for many of us who have lost sight of our school friends and something that was almost impossible before the arrival of social media. After their Facebook connection, Nora and Hae Sung start talking frequently on Skype. There is a fleeting hope of reviving their friendship, and maybe even developing something more, as they continue to talk despite the time zone difference and make plans to see each other.

These new technologies have many advantages: they allow us to feel the permanence of the people, places, or memories we may have lost, as digital media acquires a physical location in our phones. Similarly, they allow us a window into others’ lives: whether through social media or video calls, we can constantly stay up to date even if they are on the other side of the world.

However, reality is much harsher than fantasy, and technology, despite the advantages and possibilities it offers, is far from perfect. Georgie’s world comes crumbling down when she loses her phone and with it, the last memories she had of her mother. Despite existing in the digital world, and therefore appearing indestructible, the footage of Georgie’s mother is forever lost when the physical object that contained it is gone. For Georgie, losing her phone means losing a piece of her mother, and mourning her death once again.

In Past Lives, the distance between Nora and Hae Sung narrows through technology only to contract again. While they have reconnected thanks to social media and Skype, they quickly grow frustrated with the technology itself and the impossibility to see each other in person becomes overwhelming for Nora. Their newfound relationship seems to only exist two-dimensionally, in the digital world rather than in the real one. Yes, the internet reunited them, but it has also underlined the irreparable distance between them in an entirely new way, perhaps even in a more painful one as they have to say goodbye to each other once again.

Technology may seem like a miraculous tool, but ultimately it can never replace the actual presence of our friends and family. Both Scrapper and Past Lives depict this struggle: while technology may contain a version of the people we love, that version will never be fully embodied or permeable, which inevitably creates frustration. It almost feels like the technological progress has given Georgie, Nora, and virtually many of us the fleeting possibility of closing any distance – whether metaphorical with our late loved ones or physical between continents – but has fallen short of actually creating a bridge between two words, thus only highlighting a separation even further rather than making it go away.

In the end, both Scrapper and Past Lives have quite positive and hopeful endings, as Georgie and Nora move on with their lives with the people who are physically present next to them: Nora says goodbye to Hae Sung and chooses the life she has with her husband and Georgie eventually learns to live with her grief and let her father into her life. However, there is still a feeling that both protagonists will always keep their loved ones with them: while technology may have failed them, it still was a part of achieving their happy endings.

Published 25 Aug 2023

Tags: Past Lives Scrapper

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