“Burnt Grass“, a 2014 short film by Ray Wong, is a thought experiment on the consequences of altering the essence of the human experience. Given the singularity of the human condition, at what point do we find a moral objection to its modification, and at what point does a deviation from it result in a devastating rejection of the newfound paradigm? Jack and Sally, a couple who finds a smoldering pit in their backyard, discovers that it has an unusual ability to duplicate organic objects.
The crux of what generates tension in Burnt Grass is, unsurprisingly, not the patch of land’s unique ability to duplicate items, but rather the social impact this capacity has on the singular experience of the human condition. What happens when a monogamous relationship is interrupted by a polygamous third-party, albeit a replica of one of its members? The solipsistic imperative of an individual’s consciousness dictates that one must be, if not the pinnacle of society, at the very least the pinnacle of self. When one is denied even that luxury of assurance, there comes undoubtedly a paranoia that stresses the status quo.
This exploration of identity is further expounded on through the relative ease of acceptance of the duplicated Sally, as compared to the organic objects Sally duplicates before undergoing the process herself. Jack takes a great suspicion to the organic foods that Sally has taken to duplicating; he is unsure if they are safe to eat or not. Yet, when confronted with a second Sally, there is no defining fear, no underlying guilt, at least initially; it is a commentary on our near-absolute faith in the authenticity of self, and the absoluteness of a unique singularity in our constructs of self.
When faced with the morality of this phenomenon, the emphasis is once again on the implications of identity—who is the “real” person, what constitutes fairness when both are biologically, if not temporally, the same, and should there be a deference to the original, if the duplicate is in every respect identical? Capped with the ultimate crisis of identity, a crisis of mortality, the film is an acerbic witness of the complete trust we have in our identities, that has been mined in science fiction literature for decades, when paired up with a contrary factor that challenges that certainty.