Mad Scientist, Alienated Creature

Having just watched The Machine, I thought it a clever update on Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. At the core, it’s the same story: a misunderstood scientist creates a creature which turns against society/government/the creator. It’s a variation on a Frankenstein theme. Using technology, man crosses into God’s realm and creates a monster. The monster is sweet, pure, childlike. Through adult manipulation, it turns confused often running away or recognized as a “mistake” and is hunted down and destroyed. The story never ends happily and the audience feels empathy for the monster. There have been many films utilizing this theme, and I think it relavant.

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Caradog W. James wrote and directed this British Science-Fiction thriller, The Machine. The opening scene really had me hooked. The mishap with the brain-damaged veteran who trips the red alert lights and goes on a reflexive killing spree, and blood disappears into the red-lit room was ghastly and effective. Toby Stephens played the gifted scientist with sensitivity, and the performance by Caty Lotz was mesmerizing. She wowed me as the cyborg creation who grows disenchanted about this new world her creator brought her in to. The film had its faults like the constant darkness of the military fortress or the overly-simplistic evil, military bureaucrat Thompson, who wants to take the creature, Ava, and use her as a weapon of destruction. He is able to manipulate her because Vincent, played by Toby Stephens, is attending to his dying daughter for whom he hoped he could fix.

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The purpose of Science Fiction is to raise questions about society and imagine a world if a scenerio played out. The ambiguous, abrupt ending had many reviewers scratching their heads. What makes a human, human? Is Ava alive because she is conscious? Is the daughter alive if her consciousness is captured on a screen but has no body? What kind of life is that? It’s a pertinent issue, and I liked the ambiguity. Was Vincent wrong for saving his daughter? Shouldn’t Ava take the computer plate and pitch it into the ocean? Would that be murder? It raises that ethical question–just because we can manipulate life, should we?

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Any time a film produces more questions than it answers has me overlook flaws. The special effects were outstanding in The Machine, and I appreciated the film much more than the critics, apparently, and that’s okay with me. It’s a heavy, dark film and not for everyone.

What film did you like which raised an ethical question about life and death and our human need to control it? 

34 thoughts on “Mad Scientist, Alienated Creature

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    1. It seems critics didn’t care for the last third. It’s still good science fiction, to me. Toby’s performance was chilly and at times just fine, but Ava the cyborg made the whole film, and the other cyborgs were the strength of the film.

    1. Hi Alex. Yes, I hoped someone would mention Minority Report. One of my favorite films by Spielberg and Tom. I loved the concept. Premeditative killing. Sounds like the near future is closer than we think!

  1. It’s a science fiction theme that is continuously explored – that raises many questions. Extant is exploring it again also.
    It’s a certainty that robots will eventually achieve their own self consciousness. Soul or not. The only fracking question then is: what agenda will they chose.

  2. Great question Cindy, i think A.I mostly gets it right, making it heartbreaking when things go bad. Another example might be Rise of the Planet of the Apes where Caesar is raised as a human until his behaviour means he has to be removed. A bit different from the other robot stories but has similar themes

        1. Great images in the film– the octopus-armed contraption filling Ava up; the “crazy” mom looking for her son; Ava experiencing senses in her silhouette dance; the beginning sequence–there’s a lot to like about it. Thanks, Mikey 🙂

  3. Wonderful post!! LOVE what you wrote about the questions a good sci-fi like this one raises. Toby definitely plays the tortured-soul Vincent w/ such sensitivity that he comes across as more of a tragic figure than a mad scientist. I really like the interaction between Vincent & Ava, before and after she became a cyborg. That scene of them under the desk is very moving. Glad you love this Cindy!

    1. Yes, under the desk was quite powerful. It was a nice contrast to the black and white harsh outer world. Under the desk, the two shared an intimacy that went beyond the physical. The only criticism I have of Toby is that I never felt convinced how he felt about Ava. No denying how Ava felt about him. He, though, was standoffish. Even repelled by her “humaness” would have been fine.

      1. Well to be fair, I don’t think Vincent was ready to fall for his own cyborg. I mean he was taken aback that she has emotion, like in the ‘I found a picture’ scene when she asks if his daughter was sick and he’s crying as she touches his face (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFfAV1ryFEE).

        As far as Vincent w/ the still-human Ava, remember the scene where he apologizes for being short w/ her (in this scene: http://flixchatter.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/tobyvincentthemachine6.jpg), I felt that the way he was looking at her made me think that he’s starting to have feelings for her. I don’t see him as standoffish, more mystified and perhaps even slightly alarmed by his own creation, given what she is capable of. She could kill him with such ease, something he witnessed early on.

        1. I agree with the human Ava he was attracted to her. I liked the scene where he’s suggesting she show all her facial features. It’s tender. Yes, you are right regarding his daughter–it absorbed all his motivations. And I didn’t expect him to fall in love with the robot Ada, in fact, I think if he were more repulsed it would have made his character more interesting–at least confused by the situation was in order…;)

  4. Hi, Cindy:

    I’m a big Mad Scientist fan from way back. Colin Clive is a favorite. And have developed a taste for the many early films of David Cronenberg. With ‘They Came From Within’, ‘Rabid’ and ‘The Brood’ leading the pack. Not for all tastes, but exceptional suspense small budgets. His ‘Scanners’ is a very decent tale well told. A superb introduction for Michael Ironside and early weaponized Mental Telepathy.

    ‘The Fly’ creeped me out. Though, special effects, make up and Jeff Goldblum excels! Though not “Mad Scientist”. Cronenberg’s adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘The Dead Zone’ is an exceptional example of sticking to the written word(s) and ‘Bang for the Buck!’.

    Fritz Lang, his creation, Maria and ‘Metropolis’ rock out loud!

  5. I enjoy watching sci-fi, have since I was a kid and dad and I would look for the string holding up the spacecraft! 🙄 But I don’t read them – 90% of the names are unpronounceable and it becomes irritating.

    1. Hi! Welcome 🙂 Thanks for your posts. Oh, the books are almost always better, for sure. I like to think of both versions as separate texts to admire. Rarely is the film better than the book.

  6. Blade Runner is among my top five favorites of science fiction films – I love the noir feel of it. But most of all, I love the exploration of what it means to be human. The sadness of the replicants’ lives, the way they were hunted down – it moved me very much. You can’t watch the movie without consideration of our ability to handle future technology, whether we have the compassion to be ‘creator’ – and what really makes one human.

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