”I use VR to enable empathy”, says Gina Kim, creator of the narrative Virtual Reality (VR) film Bloodless. She’s speaking on Skype to us – an audience of about thirty-five people at Västsvenska Filmdagarna in Göteborg, Sweden.
Västsvenska Filmdagarna is a conference for film creators, sponsored by the authorities of Region West in Sweden. The final day, the entire afternoon is dedicated to narrative Virtual Reality and Gina Kim as the last major speaker of the conference defines this medium’s potentials for narration.
”I wanted to show the room where she was murdered”, Gina Kim says. She speaks about the South Korean prostitute who was bestially mutilated and left to die of massive blood loss and whose last moments in life are the subject of Gina’s VR film.
Media exploited this woman’s case and her dead body, and what Gina wanted to do was tell about this death and show how the victim herself experienced it. This, Gina explains, is what VR makes possible. The viewer is not a passive viewer. VR allows people to experience without aesthetic distance. The horror, the loneliness, the sadness of the victim is actually felt.
Gina Kim found major obstacles in the way of this film project. The area and neighborhood of the crime scene where she shot her film was the lawless land of brothels and drugs. What she tried to do there was not actually criminal. But there was no help or protection from authorities or police to be had if there was any kind of conflict with locals. Because of such dangers, she had to be meticulous in her planning, not to draw unsolicited attention to her doings there.
”It was a dilemma”, says Gina, ”that it was not the actual room of the murder that we used for shooting the film. We had to make this clear to the viewer”, she says. The dilemma was solved by letting the dying woman walk out of her body, out of her room, roaming as a ghost, looking for someone to be with her at her last. ”And”, says Gina with some emphasis, that someone is YOU!”
One thing that she underscores at this point is the effect on the VR viewer of being thus chosen by the dying woman. ”Now you embody her”, says Gina. ”You don’t become her. You embody her, and then she takes you to her room”. ”The viewer”, says Gina, ”does not become the victim. That would be sadistic. I do not want to produce the violence”, she says.
In Gina Kim’s view, narrative Virtual Reality is a powerful tool. It is a powerful tool that she uses to create empathy. As a tool for experiencing the pain of others. ”It is”, says Gina Kim, ”the sharpest tool of narration. The sharpest of a million years”. And the way she wants to use this, the sharpest narrative tool of all ages, is she says – ”to make a better world”.
And I? I say yes. That’s definitely the way she uses it.