From Gilgamesh to Herodotus or Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray to the bloodbaths of Countess Bathory, the search for eternal youth is a powerful trope in storytelling. It’s one of those impossible desires: to stall time and stave off the effects that its undeniable march has on us all.

Cinema, specifically through visual effects, has long offered such possibility. Practical make-up is one thing; the new wave of computer-generated effects, however, is something else entirely. Digital de-aging offers instant, painless plastic surgery: nipping, tucking, concealing and erasing the real signs of getting older. Technology can create younger versions of our favorite actors, but to what end? And how “realistic” are these rejuvenated renderings, if they leave both avatar and audience stranded in the shadow of the Uncanny Valley?

The first of this two-part video essay examines this rejuvenation aspect of our current onscreen age-pocalypse: the real and the virtual future of humans, ghosts in the machine of modern visual effects.