REVIEW -Automata (2014)
Last week marked my fleeting return to the pages of Strange Horizons to take a look at the nominally Spanish science fiction film Automata from 2014.
The film is set in a future where 99% of the human race have been wiped out by an ecological catastrophe. After retreating into the kind of grizzled cityscape that recalls Highlander II more urgently than it does the likes of Dredd, humanity created a race of robotic servants in an effort to push back the deserts and reclaim the planet. However, when the technological fix inevitably failed, humanity turned against its robotic slaves and neglected them to the point where they were eventually forced to learn first how to repair themselves and then how to upgrade themselves, thereby accidentally kick-starting the Singularity.
Made for very little money, Gabe Ibáñez’s Automata looks great but has little to offer beyond a threadbare game of brinksmanship over the question of whether or not robots get to be viewed as people:
What began as an important philosophical question ossified into a literary trope around the time that science fiction became a commercial genre. Now, after half a century of sustained over-exploitation, that trope has become the literary equivalent of a ritual: the genre keeps asking the question despite knowing the answer because asking the question is what genre does and because asking it satisfies some unspoken psychological need. One way of explaining science fiction’s obsession with policing the boundaries of personhood is to view it as a set of cultural responses to the guilt and trauma of slavery and class-based oppression.
Aside from reviewing quite a mediocre film, the piece expands on some of the ideas I put forward in a Future Interrupted column about Alex Garland’s Ex Machina and considers the question of national genre cinemas and whether the economic urge to get stuff seen by English-speaking audiences might not actually undermine the ability to create a local scene that speaks to local concerns.