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The Machine (2014)

| April 10, 2014 | 0 Comments

I can’t get anywhere without my GPS.  I’m told that I am “directionally challenged.”  I depend on my cell phone for so much that I could be accused leaving normal functions to wires and microchips.  When I get home, I spend a majority of my time on the computer.  I don’t think I’m alone.  This is the landscape of the 21st century, and I suspect that I am not alone in the opinion that we are less than five years away from the development of computers that can think for themselves.  Will I be so dependent then?  Having seen Caradog James’ effective science fiction thriller The Machine, I have reason to think not.

The movie takes place in a time and place that it becoming so standard that it is beginning to get tiresome – the dystopian not-too-distant future.  An opening title informs us that the western world has been embroiled in a cold war with China so severe that it has pushed this hemisphere into a non-stop economic depression.  The new space race is the arena of artificial intelligence.  Our focus falls on a hunky British scientist named Dr. Vincent McCarthy (Toby Stephens), a dedicated man whose work in the field has yielded some complications, test-wise.  He pushes forward in the technology without giving much thought to the moral implications of what he is working on.

The failures put the good doctor on edge.  His research seems to be at a stand-still.  Then he meets Ava, a scientist who has developed a computer that can teach itself through conversations it has with human beings.  With McCarthy’s body structure and Ava’s artificial brain, they could be magic together.  Unfortunately, the government isn’t interested in magic, they want – not surprisingly – a super soldier.

Ava eventually experiences a fate worse than death.  In its wake, Vincent steals her likeness and turns it into his machine.  What follows is not exactly groundbreaking but is at least asking fundamental questions about the moral nature of the science itself.  For example, if Dr. Vincent is able to save brain damaged soldiers by way of the A.I., does that person have a quality of life?  If a machine can learn faster than a human being, does that make the artificial intelligence more advanced?

The movie never really debates these questions, but at least it acknowledges them.  What’s key here is that, unlike most science fiction which is about clanging and banging metal and noise – this one has a point to make.  It sees a bleak future.  The halls and corridors of Dr. Vincent’s lab are made of cold steel, as if the humanity has been washed out.  The score is mechanical, reminding us of The Terminator or Blade Runner.  In fact, Ridley Scott’s popular epic seems to have inspired much of what we see here.  This could easily have been a prequel to that film, in which we see the creation of the replicants.

Within all the cold and steel, it is interesting that director Caradog James returns the focus back on the human element.  It lies at the heart of this story.  Dead center of this story is bridge between the natural and the artificial – Ava.  She’s been retooled into a machine, but she has an infant’s sensibility.  She’s still learning her way around, yet you wonder how much of her personality is Ava and how much is the machine.

I like a movie that has me asking those questions.  I like a movie that dares to question the moral state of something as hot button as artificial intelligence.  As the world moves closer to the hot spot of A.I., it’s an interesting debate.  The Machine may not be groundbreaking, but it leaves you thinking about it when it’s over.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.