When I was younger, Serial Experiments Lain made me very uncomfortable. I was neck deep in my religion, and as a passionate but young believer that was part of a conservative congregation, I was quick to judge those around me and even the pieces of art I watched. Lain troubled me so much that I sold the expensive boxset I purchased before coming to Christ. During this rewatch, I reflected back on all this and have been wondering why I felt that way, but upon viewing layer nine, I think I have a better idea, as the questions asked of the newly presented villain god could be applied to the Christian one, and at a superficial viewing of the show—perhaps all I was capable of at that time—I only saw representations of God that were intolerable. Now upon a more mature viewing, the Christian God comes out of Lain looking pretty good.
Lain continues to struggle with what her existence means. She meets beings on the Wired whom she questions about reality, before going to Cyberia, where she recovers a chip. She later confronts Taro about it, having deduced that he used it to alter memories in the night club, creating the false Lain that appeared there. Later, Lain continues to find out about her existence, accessing memories that show the introduction into her “family.” Meanwhile, the groundwork has been laid for Lain to meet the God of the Wired.
What is truth?
While the characters in Lain, primarily the protagonist, ponder the consequences of truth, the creators of Serial Experiments Lain seem to want the audience to think upon that first question: exactly what is it? To that end, very little action occurs in the episode—most of the time is spent focusing on Lain and how distraught she is at the increasingly real possibility that she’s not who she thinks she is, and that she might not be “real,” as well as on informational snippets given throughout that culminate in the episode’s final shot.
The scenes involving Lain revolve around the idea of truth, and the ideas spoken by her and others hint at its meaning. The power of truth is expressed: it has power simply by being. Truth is truth, and one character argues that truth is just because it is true. These are not empty words thrown about in a series trying to be smart—they make sense. As Taro remarks, they’re appealing.
But make no mistake—as much as the questions are real, this is a story. The episode traces the history of this alternative universe, the major events that led to this point in time. Starting with the Roswell incident, layer nine mixes in real life clips and photographs to weave a tale that strings together history, conspiracy, and the mythology of the series, including the KIDS experiment, to explain how the show has progressed to this point, though not yet why Lain is integral to the Wired God’s (by the way, now revealed as researcher Masami Eiri) plan. The basic path is that aliens provided information to the U.S. government, and through scientists and others involved at Roswell, America started marching toward the idea of one human consciousness with a primacy on communication with one another.
However, we as viewers know that this is a fiction, that despite the real life components leading to Eiri’s ascension into a sort of godhood, events within the narrative are thrown in, as is conspiracy (this episode feels extraordinarily like an episode of The X-Files). Those subtle components send us a message: we, too, need to consider what is truth. Just because Eiri says it is so, just because he has extraordinary power and no longer needs a physical body, just because he’s able to manipulate Lain, who is a powerful entity herself (the extent of her power is just starting to materialize), doesn’t mean he is truth.
I think the argument can be made that God is truth, not just from a Christian perspective that teaches as much, but when trying to define “god” outside that structure. And while Eiri can do godlike things and has demonstrated certain truths of Lain’s world via his research and very existence on the Wired, he may not be the same as truth. And as proposed earlier, truth is just—if Eiri is not just, and it certainly doesn’t seem so, he may not be “truth” either.
Present Day. Question Time.
- A pretty typical representation of an alien shows up at Lain’s door. Nothing’s a surprise anymore in this show, and especially this appearance, as it’s hot on the heels of Roswell and the Majestic 12 being mentioned. Okay, maybe the shirt (Freddie Kruger-esque?) is surprising.
- Did you believe in visitation by intelligent beings as a child? Do you believe in it now? The X-Files was constantly fed into my brain as a teen—it had some effect on me and perhaps even now. I wonder if it’s the same for others of my age, some 20 years later.
- Taro slips Lain the tongue; he also slips her his gum. Gross, Taro.
- Speaking of Taro, are we supposed to feel some measure of sympathy toward him? It’s hard for me to feel that way, not because of the kiss, but because it’s now clear that his role in Mika’s demise was purposeful.
- When I saw the digital Eiri, I thought of Ghost in the Shell…the two pieces certainly have a number of similarities.
- My memory of this show is terrible—I feel like the next episode could be the last one. What’s there still to come between now and the end?
Let us know your thoughts below! And join us next Thursday for the next installment.