Film in review – “Automata”

Automata_posterThe two major themes are frequent assumptions in recent movies: the first, that the near future of the Earth is very bleak: in this case, sunstorms are going to ravage the atmosphere and create so much radiation that 97% of the world’s population is wiped out, and the ones who remain will be huddled in decaying cities, trying to survive in a bleak landscape with little hope for the future. The humans who remained were at least technologically advanced enough to create robots, called “pioneers,” who were supposed to clean up the air and the water and make the world hospitable for humans once again. But the “pioneers” fail to solve the enormous atmospheric issues, and they are now only good for “domestics” or other types of servants.

Ah, but this is where sin and utter depravity intervene (John Calvin would have been proud). Somebody has taken some of the robots and rebuilt them. They were supposed to have two unalterable protocols: that they could not harm humans and that they could not modify other robots. But apparently nobody considered that the robots themselves might evolve, which is the other nightmare of those who fear the development of “artificial intelligence.”

Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas) works for the insurance agency that is supposed to guarantee that the robots will function as designed. Of course, the warranty is only in effect if the hardware is not tampered with and Jacq, to his chagrin finds evidence of just that. But his malaise is not just about his job and the corporate thugs he seems to work for; his wife, Rachel (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen) is pregnant and Jacq dreams of raising their child in a better place where there is fresh air and ocean. Jacq is nostalgic about a trip to the seaside as a little boy where he played in the sand and ran headlong into the gentle surf. The bleak urban wasteland he now inhabits seems farther removed than his boyhood memories.

When Jacq investigates the alterations of the company’s rogue robots, he discovers a couple of awful truths. The founders of his company admit that the preventive protocols were themselves designed by the robots, which of course means that they could be de-programmed, as well. Jacq also stumbles upon a little colony of self-sustaining robots (one of whom is a refugee from a pornographic studio?) who mechanically predict that the future belongs to them. (Don’t worry, they assure him, the human spirit will live on in us, even though you will be extinct.)

Jacq is not so much interested in saving the human race as he is preserving his own little family, but somehow the two get intertwined and it all boils down to a survivalist fight-to-the-finish where the humans and robots wind up choosing sides despite the way they are both programmed to think.

The moral to the story? Better enjoy those family beach vacations now; Armageddon could be closer than we think.


Ronald P. Salfen is the parish associate at Woodhaven Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.