Automata (2014)

Automata_poster.jpgTitle: Automata
Release date: 20 September, 2014
Director: Gabe Ibáñez
Producer: Danny Lerner; Les Weldon; Antonio Banderas; Sandra Hermida
Writer: Gabe Ibáñez; Igor Legaretta Gomez; Javier Sanchez Donate
Starring: Antonio Banderas; Birgitte Hjort Sørensen; Dylan McDermott; Robert Forster; Tim McInnerny; Melanie Griffith
Production company: Ultravi Productions
Running time: 110 minutes

Automata is a film set in a dystopian future where almost all of the human population of the world has been killed off by massive solar flares. All that remains are a (relatively) few human communities, represented in this film as a dark, run-down city with permanently dark skies (to shield the cite from the radiation) and acid-like rain. Outside of the city boundaries there is a seemingly endless, radioactive desert. Within this world, an industrial corporation has created humanoid robots that were meant to assist with the reclamation of the desert, but which have ended up relegated to more menial tasks in the city and are forming a kind of underclass. The plot device in the film is the perennial science fiction device of human creations superseding their human creators – though in this case, it’s less of a robotic rebellion or uprising, and instead a slow, inevitable movement towards the ultimate end of humanity, except that which is remembered by the robots and embodied in them.

The protagonist in the film, Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas), is an insurance investigator for the company that makes the robots, and the film has aspects of a noir-type first part with Vaucan tracking down what looks like robotic anomalies for his employers (in order to keep his job, family and livelihood), and the second part is a trek across the desert to the beginning of the robots destiny. The film plays a little with the Asimov three laws of robotics (see https://transhumanfilms.com/2015/09/12/i-robot-2004/) to develop its own dual laws as follows:

  1. The robot cannot harm any form of life;
  2. The robot cannot modify itself or any other robot.

Needless to say, the film explores the possibility of these two protocols being circumvented – which may lead to a kind of transhumanist singularity event, where the creations reach a threshold that accelerates in terms of abilities transcending humanity and making them obsolete and irrelevant.

This film is only 110 minutes but it feels longer – mostly because it is a long, drawn out journey towards the beginning of the end of humanity. There is little in the way of action sequences – if you’re looking for that in an Antonio Banderas film – and it feels like it could have been edited down to something shorter and more ‘punchy’. The particular themes in the film are some of the more common themes in these kinds of films – of human evolution being transcended by our own technological creations; the nature of intelligence and ‘souls’ as what makes us human; human self-interest as being a key to human downfall; and the creation of technological “underclasses” in a world falling apart socially.

In contemplating the corporation in the film, I was reminded of Ian Barbour’s (1993) comments about human nature and the abuses of power and the institutionalization of self-interest, as well as Ron Cole-Turner’s comments that ‘technology, for all its good, is constantly on the edge of sin, exploitation, and greed. It is, after all, human technology, beset by our weaknesses.’ (Cole-Turner: 1993,102) For me, the thing underdeveloped in the film is the robots’ own ‘child’ they create – sort of a cross between a dog and a cockroach – and the empathy it potentially develops. That would have been worthwhile pursuing in some more depth.

Overall an interesting film, but one which lags at times, and the different themes being explored are often done better individually in other films (e.g. Bladerunner).

  • Cole-Turner, Ronald. The New Genesis: Theology and the Genetic Revolution. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993.
  • Barbour, Ian G. Ethics in an Age of Technology: The Gifford Lectures 1989-1991. Vol. 2. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993.

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