Large Image Display:Chrysalis (2007): Preparing for Surgery


Chrysalis is a very dark French film. It aired in 2007, (one of three films with the same name to air that year) and is entirely French speaking. An English dub is available, but hammy.

It is a mix between cyberpunk and film noire, and is a rich breeding ground to visual examples of potentials for VR, along with the social and legal effects of such.


This single still taken from this film has been considerably scaled back from the original material.

This is where the telesurgery system in Chrysalis starts to take an unexpected twist. Not to say that what they propose here is completely impossible, as it might be possible, but requires a little lateral thinking. It is entirely possible that this part was added just for stylistic reasons, but there may yet be something to salvage.

In the previous still and dissection of it we established how none of the technologies shown were fundamentally much different from those interface technologies we have today, and how gesture control interfaces to do exactly what was shown there, actually do work.

At this stage, we go a little further. The patient's virtual heart is out of the patient's chest and in front of the surgeon. Their actual heart is most assuredly still in their chest, but with a significant amount of scanning equipment directed at it.

The surgeon uses her hand gestures first to rotate the heart to get a better view of the damage from a different direction, then makes a letterbox shape with her hands to create a rectangular shape in mid-air above the heart, and passes it down over the virtual heart by keeping her hands in the same position as she moves her arms down. Interfacing with the system rather than the patient.

As the box passes over the heart, it cuts it away neatly, like a salami slicer, the upper portion of the heart disappearing from view as the box descends, revealing the inner workings as if it had been slices open across that point. She removes her hands and the new view stays, like a window into the middle of the heart.

There are a couple of medical devices that do just that, although they are pre-surgery tools for visualisation, rather than surgical tools themselves. Chief is probably the Dextroscope, which is very similar in function to what is going on here.

The Dextroscope

The difference of course is that the Dextroscope is not designed to be used on live patient data at the time of surgery. You may be able to rotate a virtual organ or section of tissue to any degree imaginable, but you still have to access it in the physical patient, and you cannot just spin them like a top. Worse when you section away part of an organ to peer inside, that view is not exactly going to be productive for sending cutting tools into, as its inside the organ and they have to cut through physical flesh to get there.

Yet, that is what chrysalis does. In this part of the scene, the surgeon is ordering her two robot arms into the cut-away section of the heart to take care of the damage. They dip through the virtual segment window, and start working on the damage of the inner wall of the heart. This is of course impossible if we take it at face value – there is no way the heart would work afterwards.

The only way this could possible work would be via a very different and much more advanced medical technology than telesurgery, so it is very easy to write it off as visual show boating in tune with the stylised presence of the film.

If it is not simply meaningless eye candy at this point, the one remote possibility that remains, is that the surgical instruments are self-guiding. Using a group of navigation tools called SLAM – Simultaneous Location and Mapping – modern robots are able to simultaneously create a three dimensional map of their environs, and map out a route through them to their destination. Its not perfect, and just like a human in unfamiliar territory, there are often many mistakes along the way.

It is a long shot, but its possible that with a heavily modified and refined version of this technique, combined with an expert system's knowledge of the human body – and the patient scans used throughout the surgery, the tool heads are expected to self-navigate through the patient's body to enter the organ via the most convenient valve, in order to approach the damage site from the angle and orientation the surgeon has specified.

There is not enough information to be certain, and it is an ultimately unsatisfying end to this visual feast of telesurgical principles regardless, but it is one possibility to explain away the note on which this scene ends.


Image 4 of 4 on Chrysalis' views on telesurgery.

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Main Article on Chrysalis

The Dextroscope

Intelligent, Sensitive Surgical Drill

Dictionary: SLAM

Dictionary: Telesurgery

Dictionary: Telesurgical Unit