Life 2.0 starts out with a shot of a male and a female avatar staring at each other in an undistinguished location, their very human voices enlivening their otherwise pixel-blank stares. For a moment you wonder, or hope, that this will be a film entirely shot in Second Life. And for a very short second, the quasi-stillness of the characters—a man and a woman sitting in some atemporal non-space projecting on each other the remedy for their demands—juxtaposed with the familiar cadence of the human voice echoes the barebones poetics of Last Year at Marienbad.
Of course, in the case of Alain Resnais’s avatars, the projections never quite line up with their screens; the man reminisces about a past with the woman that she claims never existed. In Jason Spingarn-Koff’s documentary, about a group of Second Life hardcore users, we meet a couple with a similar problem. He lives in Canada, she lives in New York, and they are both married to different people. Yet they stage togetherness in the online world where they meditate on top of lily pads, dance in their Sunday best, and make love in private rooms (“I swear I can feel breath, I swear it,” she says at one point). When they finally meet offline and have to share a house, get a work visa, and do some gardening, the projections quickly stop fitting their screens, to which she will say, “He’s a fake, I’m real.”
Life 2.0, which grows pedestrian and overlong, also portrays a female web designer living in her parents’ basement, where she chain smokes her way through 20-hour work shifts trying to sustain her Second Life luxury-items business. There’s also a man whose avatar is an 11-year-old girl and whose online addiction drives his fiancée to move out and his alter ego to self-delete with the help of a suicide bomb strapped to the chest. But none of these people are as compelling as the couple who take their online affair to the world we have naturalized as “real” and find out that digital technologies are simply new (inter-)faces to symptoms that are actually very old: The thing itself, fleshly or pixelated, never quite matches the thing invented.