Gabrielle’s review published on Letterboxd:
This might be a little spoilery.
I think, therefore I am...
But am I? And if I am... What am I?
Descartes initially made it sound so simple, but the more you ask, the more complicated the question becomes. Ghost in the Shell hits you with that dubious complexity, as Masamune Shirow creates the concept of the "Ghost" based on Arthur Koestler's The Ghost in the Machine, arguing that contrary to what Cartesian Dualism suggests, the mind does exist in a physical condition rather than fully separate from the body - in the brain, and there alone -, and that Ghost is where true individuality resides. Although it exists inside a physical carcass, that shell is nothing but a housing recipient for the Ghost and does not, by any means, define it. Which is why no matter what shape it takes, how many modifications it goes through, as long as the Ghost is kept untouched individuality is retained.
One thing that Mamoru Oshii boldly suggests at one point is that while social perception is an essential part of human experience, we dwell so much in it that we permitted mere self-awareness not to configure a human being anymore. "I know I'm human because I'm treated like human", the Major says to Batou. That's her letting outside perception define what she is, rather than look inwards and dare to find out. Most human beings do that in the modern world. We're raised like that. We're built to accept that pre-existing load-outs of what we are define us. Motoko Kusanagi is the embodiment of a person so lost in that notion that her singularity doesn't exist. She isn't whole. The only thing that does exist is others' ideas of her, as showcased by the perspective of her most loyal companion, Batou.
On the other hand, the Puppet Master isn't defined as a living organic being, he (she?) has no body of his (her?) own, but he has a Ghost nonetheless. Created by a streaming of information so endless it becomes thought, and it becomes self-aware. Yet he lacks the concept of human experience; he can't be perceived by external eyes as human, he can't be seen as anything but a program that may or may not have grown a Ghost. But he knows exactly what he is. He is a level of existence beyond such doubt. Essentially, he is everything that Motoko lacks.
The Puppet Master is a manifestation of a person's true singularity. More accurately, of a person's acceptance of such singularity. Not how others perceive you, not how society dictates you to be, just... You. In peace with yourself. That's a concept that can be translated and interpreted in many, many ways, but the portrayal of the Puppet Master as a male voice inside a woman's body seems to allude very directly to gender identity. "Your wish to remain as you are is what limits you", he says to Motoko. Motoko wanders, lost in her lack of identity due to being shackled to the external perception of her existence, and can only find her true self within the Puppet Master, who can only ascend to human experience within her, whom he was inexplicably naturally drawn to .
"Proposing marriage, the god shall descend", the lyrics of Kenji Kawai's main theme sing.
So finding yourself is a matter of mental ascension first and foremost. One must find that unique identity that defines their Ghost, in order to break free from the eyes of the outside. External perception will always exist and play a vital part in the notion of being, but it can't define us if we look inwards and find that part that makes our Ghost ours first. That piece that makes us whole. That makes you... You. If we find that, we can go wherever we want in this vast network of human existence.