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Machine, The

Entry updated 20 June 2022. Tagged: Film.

Film (2013). Red & Black Films. Directed and written by Caradog W James. Cast includes Jade Croot, Helen Griffin, Pooneh Hajimohammadi, Denis Lawson, Caity Lotz, Jean-Paul Macleod and Toby Stephens. 91 minutes. Colour.

There is no backstory; by the year 2013, it may be, the makers of The Machine felt none would be necessary. The viewer is dumped in medias res into a desolate surveillance-heavy Near Future England just as a Cold War between China and the West has heated up. Teams of scientists and engineers at a security-conscious research base are attempting to recuperate brain-damaged soldiers through the use of Cybernetic implants; their ultimate goal, however, is to create warrior Cyborgs under AI control.

One of the scientists, Vincent McCarthy (Stephens), recruits Ava (Lotz) for her cutting-edge insights into AI Technology, though his boss, the sinister high-level grey-haired smooth-talking apparatchik Thomson (Lawson), distrusts her. A number of early-model cyborgs are visible throughout the base; they speak to each other in a language no one can understand (and apparently out of earshot of McCarthy or Thomson, as their use of a secret language would be alarming if noticed). McCarthy fits one of these with a new prosthetic arm, which he/it uses to grab Ava, pulling her into a brief dance, whispering into her ear a cry for help. Now suspicious, she is apprehended attempting to visit an off-limits part of the base. McCarthy – whose actions are governed by his desire to cure his daughter Mary (Croot) of (the genuine) Rett syndrome, which slowly destroys the brains of young girls – attempts to warn Ava not to go too far, as he needs her input to effect the longed-for cure; but he is too late. Thomson has her killed. It is a mark of The Machine's underlying ruthlessness that, though she is fully scanned, death deletes her conscious self.

Soon a Machine is modelled on her body (Lotz still), into which McCarthy implants an Ava brain scan (though her actual mind is permanently gone). But Ava's smile is still in the bones of the face. The nascent AI inside the naked (but "tastefully" shot) Machine attempts to re-enact the smile, in scenes that evoke earlier moments in film history (see Frankenstein Monster) where artefactual entities, who want to be loved, create uncanny-valley Horror-in-SF effects by caricaturing human expressions; in this case, the Machine does manage to acquire beauty and competence as fast as the newly reborn Leeloo (also uncanny-valley naked-ish) similarly mastered Homo-sapiens tics in The Fifth Element (1997). The Machine's amatory impulses – she soon falls in love with McCarthy – also echo Leeloo's equally implausible attachment to a human male. With such a toolkit to access, she is unlikely to obey Thomson when he tells her to kill fellow sentients; nor does she.

Thomson then instructs McCarthy to disable the Machine's AI centres, or he will destroy the brain scan that is all that remains of his daughter, who has died in the meantime (like almost every mortal in the film). But McCarthy removes instead the Machine's fail-safes, freeing her/it completely. The cyborgs then rebel, under her aegis. Thomson kills some of them, but the Machine lobotomizes him, and retrieves Mary's brain scan after McCarthy tells her: "You're the future: I trust you". Her laser gaze in his tactful embrace is ambivalent. The film ends in sunshine, on an isolated foam-flecked rocky beach (perhaps Cornwall). A tablet readout of his daughter wants to play with her mother, not with the obsolete McCarthy. He passes the tablet to the Machine, who stares away from him: at the sea and the sun, at the Posthuman future. She may be communing with some inner Ava (see Adam and Eve).

The Machine is full of echoes, Clichés and shout-outs, all transparently executed, as though filmmakers and viewers were expected to share an open secret (see SF Megatext): that as far as Homo sapiens is concerned, the End of the World is nigh. At points this knowingness almost overwhelms the hard underlying burden of the film: which is a tale of exodus. The inheritors of the world to come are leaving the human condition behind. Whatever New Found Land Ava/Machine and her kin are in the process of discovering, it is not for the likes of a Last Man like McCarthy to describe. [JC]


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