It’s Monday morning, which means it’s a good time to ease into the week with a movie review. Readers may be concerned that my blog is turning into a movie review site, given the slew of recent movie-related posts. Even Friday’s guest post was a movie review!
What can I say? October seems to be prime movie-watching season, what with Halloween approaching and the general fun and merriment of the holiday. It’s also getting cold—albeit gradually, and only in fits and spurts—which makes for prime film viewing conditions. Toss in RedBox‘s generosity with coupons, and it’s a recipe for weekly movie reviews.
So it was that I came to pick up 2020’s Archive. It’s a British sci-fi flick that follows a familiar Frankenstein plot: a man’s obsession with restoring his deceased wife in the form of a hyper-advanced AI leads him down a dangerous road.
But the film is unique in that while it treads some familiar territory, it offers up plenty of pathos and emotion. The protagonist, George Almore, works in a remote research facility in a rural, mountainous prefecture in Japan. The nature of his work is unclear, though it has something to do with robotics and artificial intelligence.
What is clear is that Almore is largely ducking his boss and is working on perfecting a robotic body and brain into which he can upload his wife’s dwindling consciousness. He’s built two earlier models, the J1 and the J2, both of which developed a degree of maturity. J1—a lumbering, bulky box on legs—possesses the mentality of a five-year old. “She” watches cartoons and is looked after by J2.
J2 is easily the most interesting character in the film. “She” has matured to the mental age of around fifteen or sixteen. She loves Almore as a father, and wants to accompany him on various outings into the cold mountains. She assists him with work around the research facility, and enjoys playing a virtual reality video game about puppies.
The conflict enters as Almore becomes increasingly obsessed with finishing J3. J3 possesses the bone structure and shape of a human woman, and Almore eventually is able to mold a skin-like material around her, to the point that she nearly resembles Almore’s deceased wife.
As Almore grows closer to J3, J2 becomes jealous and melancholy. She wants Almore to continue working on her, so that she can resemble a human, rather than a boxy robot. One of the most heartbreaking scenes is when J2—after being put into robotic hibernation for a couple of days as punishment for letting J1 wander out into the snow—wakes to find her sturdy legs replaced with flimsier models. Almore took her legs because he needed the “technology in them” to improve J3.
Almore’s obsession over J3 drives a wedge between him and J2, but it also results in Almore neglecting his other duties. The high-tech but aging facility begins breaking down. Almore’s company grows suspicious.
He also attracts the unwanted attention of the company responsible for “archiving” the consciousnesses of the recently deceased. This practice is where the film gets its name: a company figured out that human consciousness endures after death if stored properly in “archives.” That storage allows the family the opportunity to spend about 200 hours talking to the deceased before his or her consciousness finally runs out of juice, after which the remains of the deceased are finally buried.
The technology is highly proprietary and controversial, and Almore breaks the law to convert his wife’s analog remaining consciousness into J1, J2, and J3. That illegal action compounds Almore’s professional difficulties, giving the film a taut sense of suspense.
Overall, it’s a good film. It is very deliberately paced, not quite to 2001: A Space Odyssey levels, but certainly slower than the typical blockbuster. There were scenes and characters that didn’t always seem to add up (such as the risk assessor Almore meets with in a strange Japanese bar halfway through the film), but overall there is a pay-off for most everything in the script. There is also a twist that sneaks up on you, but is predictable if you pay attention.
Overall, I’d give it 3.5 out of 5 stars, but I like these kinds of slow-burn science-fiction flicks that make you think. The questions about humanity, life, death, grief, and obsession are fascinating, especially as we see the very real emotions of J2 as she struggles—fatally—with neglect and even robo-depression.
Check it out!
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