I spoke to Holland — my ex-girlfriend — last week after she had recently experienced Carne Y Arena, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s first step into the world of virtual reality.
Translated from the Spanish as ‘Flesh & Sand’ the project is currently only on offer in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Mexico City and Milan, an interactive experience that puts the viewer into the shoes of a group of immigrants crossing the Mexican border into the United States with the help of a coyote (a local guide). As Iñárritu tells it “Carne Y Arena is a humble first attempt at exploring the human condition and expressing and sharing a reality through the worth of a new art."
When I was deported from the United States over three years ago, our relationship was effectively left in suspended animation. It was made worse by a shifting balance of power that irrevocably shifted my perception of things. No longer able to handle my affairs in LA, Holland took charge of selling my car and belongings. The whole process was tortuous for both of us. It was almost as if I’d passed away.
As Holland excitedly recounted the immersive experience, her energy soured as she explained that the process had left her in tears. She confessed that the project had made her feel so alone and vulnerable. It brought back feelings from the first few months after my forced departure. How she had bottled up her feelings, deeming them less important then my own struggle. She wasn’t the one that had been thrown out of the country and yet her life had been thrown into turmoil just the same.
While Holland's experience contrasts so dramatically to the plight of a young migrant, it doesn't dismiss the fact that the foundation of pain is relative. The VR experience helped to release something deep within her, a desire to forgive herself for the burden she carried for far too long.
In his acceptance speech for his Special Oscar at the Governors Awards last year, Iñárritu paraphrased the words of the Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, to help explain the project’s underlying message: 'Understanding is love’s other name. If you don’t understand, you can’t love."