Upload: Is this Cyberpunk?
Upload is a relatively new series on Amazon Prime that came out in May 2020 and is a science-fiction comedy-drama set in the future where humans are able to upload their digital consciousness into a virtual afterlife, a bit like the episode from Black Mirror San Junipero. It’s rare that we see a science fiction comedy-drama series, as most are either action, drama, or thrillers, and especially one carrying such philosophical ramifications while making light of the whole notion at the same time. Themes include digital consciousness, the question of what makes us human, virtual life, and cutting edge-technology set in a non-too-distant future of 2033.
But is it Cyberpunk? Today, I’m going to take a look at Upload and answer that exact question.
A Familiar Cyberpunk Premise
First, a little bit about the premise of Upload.
Set in the not too distant future of 2033, humans are able to upload their virtual consciousness to a virtual afterlife of their choosing, with some afterlives being better than others depending on how much the user is willing to pay. When computer programmer Nathan dies prematurely, his girlfriend convinces him to upload to “Lakeview”, an expensive digital afterlife, only to find himself under her oppressive thumb as she holds total control of his funds and thus, his afterlife.
With a Familiar Cyberpunk Plot
As Nathan gets used to living in a digital afterlife, he finds himself growing closer to Nora, his living customer service rep. As Nora deals with her dying father and his wish not to be uploaded with the pressures of the job and her growing interest in Nathan, the two of them slowly discover that the circumstances of Nathan’s death aren’t all as they would appear to be.
Where’s all the Rainy Neon Megacities?
Is this Cyberpunk though? Well, it depends on your definition, because if you’re looking for a dark, gritty, and rain-soaked neon world, then Upload definitely isn’t it.
However, it certainly has a lot of the typical Cyberpunk tropes.
Recognizing the Cyberpunk Elements
Not only is the premise of a digital afterlife very Cyberpunk (we need only look to Black Mirror, Altered Carbon, or Ready Player One for similar themes) along with its latent existential and moral questions, but there’s a good amount of futuristic technology present in this series too, used in various interesting ways.
Cyberpunk 101: Attending your own wake after you die
In exploring what it would be like for a physical person to die with their consciousness uploaded, for example, we get to see almost an entire episode dedicated to Nathan attending his own wake, with some real people calling in virtually, other real people attending in person, and him attending across a mirror TV screen as his digital self from Lakeview.
We’ve seen these hand-phones before…
The real world itself is also very futuristic, with self-driving cars that feel similar to Total Recall or I Robot in style, which also play an important role in the series at the beginning. Getting groceries also involves interacting with a robotic arm much like you would find in an automated car factory, and when people call each other it’s done using their hands, which we’ve seen before in Total Recall as well.
Dark and Seedy Hacking Den? Check.
Later on in season one we even see a hacker’s den selling hacks for the avatars at Lakeview, and later a secret level in the hotel for adult-level debauchery.
The actual focus: a comedic romantic cyber-drama
All this, however, is the backdrop for what invariably is a cute romance between Nathan and Nora. The focus is on whimsical and comedic drama, which isn’t’ an easy thing to do with a series based on a premise this deep.
Final Verdict: Yes, this is Cyberpunk
So is this Cyberpunk? I definitely think so. It was also quite an enjoyable, relaxing, and fun experience watching, so I definitely recommend it. The acting for almost all characters are great, especially the principal leads, the character’s choices based on the premise is very believable, and the cinematography and music are both great.