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Science Fiction Notebook: The Machine

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The Machine, 2013, directed by Caradog W. James, starring Caity Lotz and Toby Stephens (Amazon, iTunes)

Summary: A despondent scientist protects his ailing daughter while building a better cyborg, but the British government attempts to steal the conscious cyborg and turn her into a soldier.

Review: A smart, beautifully filmed science fiction tale, with strong acting and fairly interesting characters caught in a web of corporate-government intrigues. Moderately violent, mild nudity. Often visually stunning, well-composed scenery, action. Amazing that it was a low-budget indie film; it didn’t feel like it. Sometimes the dialogue is a bit predictable, but the overall is good.

Favorite imagery: The way the cyborg’s skin is made to glow, as if from an inner light.

The basic plot questions: Are you man or machine? Alive or mechanical? The cyborg Ava asks, “What makes my clever imitation of life any different than theirs?” Hmmmmm. We all know the difference don’t we… You’re a machine. But people are biological mechanisms, chemical machines full of symbionts and parasites. As the cyborg points out, we cannot see inside, see each other’s thoughts, and so how do you know? We assume it. Meanwhile throughout the movie, soldiers who have brain implants demonstrate a middle-ground with their own emergent mind-speech more and more apparent.

The ending is troubling and fascinating both, which is a good reflection of the tricky territory we may face if we ever do build machines who have human-like intelligence.

Starting image: Scanning over a metallic cyborg body against a pale grey background, to a soundtrack of many distorted voices overlaid with soft, slow synthesized tones. Quietly beautiful. Then creepy surgeons, including the main character, try to work with a brain-damaged soldier in a dark room, blue tones, dented heads.

Middle image: Glowing cyborg dancer-athlete, full of intelligence; versus sick daughter in hospital.

Ending image: Fight scenes and escape from darkness morphs into a pink-orange sunset over cliffs and fields.

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