Is Using CGI to Bring Back Deceased Actors Disrespectful?

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Written by John Hussey

The title’s question is certainly a difficult one to answer. I believe it is down to the individual’s personal opinion and preference on what is and isn’t disrespectful. I decided to ask this question today because of recent rumours regarding Star Wars: Episode IX. Though Lucasfilm has since put a stop to the rumours with their own verdict, one can’t simply disregard an interesting debate amongst the fandom – “Is it right to represent Carrie Fisher with CGI in Episode IX?”

Let’s look at this argument from both sides. Firstly I can totally understand why it would be disrespectful. Essentially you are resurrecting a member of the dearly departed and using their body to perform when they should be left to rest in peace. Plus it is somewhat distasteful to see a person you cherish exploited in such a manner, furthering the disrespect. Along with this is the fact that death is, and always will be, an emotional experience that can hit people hard, and seeing Fisher onscreen after her death would merely bring those emotions back to the surface in a horrible manner.

On the other end of the spectrum, one can look at this idea as respectful – the exact opposite of what I stated in my previous statement. By having Fisher feature in Episode IX, as she was supposed to, would be continuing her character’s story, something that (you could say) maybe Fisher would’ve wanted. By continuing Princess/General Leia’s story you are honouring Fisher’s legacy, and therefore remembering her accordingly.

Look at it this way, if her involvement (as reported) is to be extensive within Star Wars: Episode VIII, then having her tragically removed from the final instalment would be upsetting.

leia

Furthermore, if the reason for her absence isn’t fulfilling then you feel Fisher’s character has been cheated. Or if Disney and Lucasfilm decided the best approach was to kill her off between the films, or in a passing scene during Episode IX, then surely that would be even more disrespecting than bringing her back with CGI?

In many ways you are acknowledging the fact that Fisher has passed away, and that she isn’t here anymore. But let’s not forget that she will always remain with us because of her legacy. I will admit that I’m not a big fan of moving on from someone’s death entirely. There has to be a balance in which you move forward whilst remembering the things they have left behind, meaning they are never truly gone.

By removing their elements, whether it be pictures, or possessions, you are disrespecting them because of your own sadness, and therefore almost forgetting they even existed. That, in my eyes, is totally wrong and the same should apply for artists and their work. Just because Fisher isn’t here anymore doesn’t mean her beloved character must disappear. If anything, Princess/General Leia should continue in respect for Fisher in order to complete her work, instead of leaving it unfinished.

I can’t think of a worst thing than passing on with unfinished business. We as fans should do everything in our power to ensure that that isn’t the case, that Fisher’s legacy gets its completion and by representing her within the final instalment can do just that.

I think by now you know where I stand with this affair. And like I said at the beginning of this essay, I understand why this can be disrespectful, but to just excuse the other side of the argument completely without rational consideration is plain wrong. Of course you don’t want the dead to be disrespected, especially if it meant they were being exploited for the sake of exploitation, but in this case it would be an honourable thing to see Fisher return as Leia one last time to complete the journey.

To further explain my argument I wish to talk about the tragedy behind Heath Ledger. Luckily his performance as The Joker within The Dark Knight was completed, and we got to see it in all its glory. But things were clearly concerning when it came to the sequel, The Dark Knight Rises. It was very obvious that Ledger’s death meant that Christopher Nolan had to reshape the direction the final instalment could go in. One would have assumed that the introduction of The Joker within The Dark Knight would’ve lead to bigger things but Nolan became hesitate about using the character because of his feelings towards Ledger.

Again, I perfectly understand why Nolan decided to go down the route that he did – because it was his way of showing his respects. But, looking at things from the other side of the argument you could say that his decision was actually even more disrespectful. Just because Ledger wasn’t with us anymore didn’t mean that his fantastical work within The Dark Knight had to be buried. Fans fell in love with his performance and rightfully rank him as the best Joker, so why would you want to throw that away?

There were ways around bringing The Joker back. They could’ve tried recasting him, which wouldn’t have been too disrespectful as they did the very something similar to complete Ledger’s final film, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. This was done by director Terry Gilliam to honour Ledger and in turn didn’t leave his last acting role unfinished, with Johnny Deep, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell feeling honoured to represent their late friend.

joker

When it comes to The Dark Knight Rises I find the emotional feelings of Nolan only further destroyed Ledger’s legacy as The Joker by cutting him out of the trilogy completely. There are no mentions of his character throughout the final chapter, not even by name. His character has vanished from the face of the Earth. We have no idea what happened to him, whether he’s locked-up in Arkham Asylum, Blackgate, or perhaps even dead. Then when it came to Bane unleashing the Blackgate prisoners you’d assume that The Joker would be freed too. You’d be wrong.

With the narrative concentrating on the League of Assassins (an element from the first film, Batman Begins) you can’t help but think that The Dark Knight is completely glossed over and becomes rather redundant within the trilogy’s overarching story. Rather than a continuation, the third act feels more like a direct sequel to Batman Begins because of its concentration of closing any loose ends.

I’m left wondering why The Dark Knight even exists within the trilogy? It means nothing by the end and The Joker becomes nothing more than a side-story within the trilogy until the main plot returns to be concluded in The Dark Knight Rises.

Ultimately Ledger’s Joker feels forgotten by the third film, and considering how much heart and soul was put into the portrayal by Ledger and how much his character impacted the trilogy’s plot and Christian Bale‘s portrayal of Batman, it feels very disrespectful on Nolan’s part. Instead you ended up with a weak conclusion to the trilogy, ultimately disrespecting The Dark Knight even further.

Apologises for going slightly off subject with that rant but I think you get the point. I don’t want what happened to Ledger to happen to Fisher. It would be a shame for Episode IX to be totally re-written and changed because of this tragic event. I don’t want a weaker final product, and I certainly don’t want to see another iconic character (performed by a wonderful actor) be misrepresented.

So to answer the title of this essay, I still believe it’s done to personal opinions. But if you want my personal opinion on the matter I genuinely believe that within the right context, like with Fisher and Ledger, you can represent the legacy’s of actors by continuing their work through CGI. It was done within Rogue One, so why can’t it be done for Episode IX? If done correctly Disney and Lucasfilm can respect Fisher by completing her work and granting her character the closure she deserves.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to share your thoughts and opinions on this matter within the comment section below, and add in your own examples as to when CGI should’ve or shouldn’t have been used to represent a deceased actor.

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There is one comment

  1. dlmerrifield

    What a great piece… I’ve never really thought about this too much, but it’s kinda blown my mind now. I reckon, with – for instance – Carrie Fisher in Star Wars, she’s an important role to the story, and I’d MUCH rather see a digitally recreated Leia than someone attempting to do a dodgy Fisher impression. Plus, it would totally distract from the movie. And Carrie actually, apparently, approved of the CGI effects used for her in Rogue One. I think with her, she’s worked with the franchise and those people for so long, she’d of course approve of it. But with other instances, such as Heath Ledger, should they have wanted to include The Joker in The Dark Knight Rises, they should have totally re-written him out. Unless the character is integral to the story, (like Dumbledore in Harry Potter), either write them out or – with the actor’s or estate’s permission, use CGI. And I only came here to say “Nice article”.

    Liked by 1 person

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