In Christianity, the empty tomb of Jesus is a powerful material witness to the Saviour’s resurrection: the absent body is a sign. Yet in fiction, how can you encounter one’s own tomb without miraculous resurrection?
Eerie question. Uncanny… The stuff of horror movies, nightmares and visions? Maybe, it is about Frankenstein’s monster, about vampires, about zombies. Yet there are other mechanisms in fiction for the dead to escape their tombs.
My favourite fictional way to do it is not to be buried in your tomb in the first place! The grave is here deployed as a criminal deception as a plot device. I’ve discussed this use of the tomb on this blog in relation to the film The Third Man and to the popular series Peaky Blinders.
There are numerous other examples that are permutations of this plot device. For instance, in Season 7 of The Walking Dead we see the grave used as a deception to conceal that someone thought killed by the bad guys is actually still alive.
In science fiction the grave can also be a deception. For instance, in Alien Covenant David creates a false grave but really experiments on the body of Elizabeth Shaw. The grave is a deception, but the deception isn’t that the person commemorated is still alive… It thus embodies a cyborg’s attempts to feign human behaviour and is a conceit.
Of course, sci-fi provides a further cyborgian form of engagement with one’s own grave. Being a cyborg, you might encounter the grave in which your human body was once buried, whilst your brain has been taken and implanted in a new body. Visiting your grave, your brain is re-united with the memorial location of your remains. You mourn for the body you’ve lost, but also live on past it.
This is the scenario presented at the very end of the recent Hollywood take on Ghost in the Shell, the lead character – Major – encounters her own grave.
So the futuristic cemetery scene allows an encounter with a forgotten past, and the grave is part of the re-awakening – the resurrection of memories – for the cyborg, who is learning to become ‘herself’ again, having had her memories suppressed and her brain stolen from her. See her own name on a permanent memorial, she walks back towards her human mother, and thus perhaps the restoration of her relationship with her. The grave is not disturbed, but it thus offers a new beginning in this world, rather than in the next.