The Machine starts out seeming like a horror film with a very disturbing and violent scene that segues into an interesting look at the birth of artificial intelligence, and an examination of morality that takes an unexpected turn.
The Machine is a 2013 British science fiction thriller film directed and written by Caradog W. James. It stars Caity Lotz and Toby Stephens as computer scientists who create an artificial intelligence for the military. One of the things that immediately becomes apparent about the story this film tells, is the struggle that emerges between the scientific and military agendas that take place in the film’s narrative.
This is a visually delightful film that uses special effects well, without over doing it. It depicts some interesting ideas regarding the behavior of artificial intelligence and the other technological developments depicted in the film. This is a violent movie, with some well done, albeit predictable fight scenes the film relies upon to remain entertaining. The film is also quite melodramatic, unfolding like an opera filled with moments of tragedy, and sadness, villainy and heroism.
The struggle in the film emerges as being between the idealistic goals of the scientists involved in the project to create artificial intelligence, and the military’s more pragmatic goal of creating a reliable killing machine that can withstand the abuse of being in battle, follow orders without question, and yet be capable of independent thinking, and having the ability to make decisions autonomously when needed.
The film’s story takes place for the most part in a top secret base that looks like a military bunker/fortress the scientific research calls home. The appearance of the place is like many we have seen before in genre films with all of the requisite tropes in place.
The head of the scientific research is Vincent McCarthy (Toby Stephens), a single father. McCarthy plans to use this technology to help his daughter Mary, who suffers from Rett syndrome, a neurological disorder. he is torn by his need to get the military funding he needs to carry out his research and and his opposition to the use the military wants to put it to.
The story takes place in the near future, amid a cold war with China. Scientists employed by Britain’s Ministry of Defence produce a cybernetic implant that allows brain-damaged soldiers to regain lost functions. Scientist Vincent McCarthy sets up a cognitive test for soldier Paul Dawson, a recipient of the cybernetic implant. Upset with Dawson’s apparent solipsism and lack of empathy, McCarthy ignores Dawson’s requests to see his mother. Dawson turns hostile, kills a scientist and wounds McCarthy, before apologizing and being shot. Afterwards, Dawson’s mother regularly protests at the base, though McCarthy denies that her son was ever there.
McCarthy’s research leads to a series of more stable cyborgs. Although they lose the capability for human speech, the cyborgs develop a highly efficient method of digital communication that they keep secret. He develops a ploy to recruit a scientist to help develop a new and different approach to achieve his goals, by disguising a job interview as an application for a research grant, and it results in his meeting a fellow scientist named Ava (Caity Lotz). After Ava demonstrates her latest work in artificial intelligence, McCarthy recruits her by promising her unlimited funds for her research.
Thomson (Denis Lawson), the suit wearing representative of the military’s interests in the project, the base’s director, and the film’s antagonist, is suspicious of Ava’s countercultural politics and sympathy for Dawson’s mother but he relents when McCarthy insists that she is the only one who can provide the necessary programme for their latest project, a self-aware and conscious android.
During a demonstration of a cybernetic arm that provides superhuman strength, amputee soldier James whispers a cry for help to Ava, who becomes suspicious of the treatment of the wounded soldiers. After she goes exploring in the base, McCarthy sternly warns her to avoid causing trouble. The warning comes too late and Thomson arranges to have her murdered by a Chinese agent, who impersonates Dawson’s mother.
Grieved by the loss of Ava, McCarthy insists that they use her brain scan and likeness for the new project, whom they dub Machine. Machine turns out to be more human than they expected or even wanted; The film demonstrates her human qualities in a scene where she dances and expresses herself in a way a robot would never do. Also she shows regret when she accidentally kills a human and refuses orders that violate her sense of morality. As Thomson’s demands on her grow more at odds with her own morality, Machine becomes increasingly distressed and asks McCarthy to protect her.
Lotz’s portrayal of Machine is really quite good, and remarkable, and provides some of the film’s best moments. Caity Lotz performed her own stunts. Her portrayal encompasses the innocence of a child, and incorporates the doll like movements of her character that demonstrates the technological source of her creation. it is a memorable performance that escalates the film beyond its ‘B’ movie plot.
An antagonism grows between Thomson and McCarthy; Thomson promises that he will relent if McCarthy can prove that Machine is sentient. After Mary dies, Thomson uses her brain scans as leverage against McCarthy, threatening to destroy the scans, unless McCarthy excises Machine’s consciousness. Machine, who has come to love McCarthy, offers to sacrifice herself for Mary and he removes a chip from Machine’s head.
Thomson reneges on his deal and orders Machine to kill McCarthy. Although Machine seems at first to obey, a scientist alerts Thomson that the operation was a sham and it only disabled fail-safe routines designed to destroy Machine. Machine and the cyborgs rebel against the humans and free McCarthy. The secret language and ability to communicate comes into play. There is also a character, a cyborg named Suri (Pooneh Hajimohammadi) who is Thomson’s assistant, that emerges as an important and key figure in the film’s narrative.
From his computer console, Thomson disables half the cyborgs but Suri, his cyborg aide, overrides his access before he can kill the rest. Thomson shoots and wounds Suri but Machine corners him in his office; wounded, he first orders her to obey, then begs for his life. Although Machine agrees not to kill him, she lobotomizes him, as he attempted to do to her. After leaving Thomson for dead, Machine downloads Mary’s brain scan. Machine, McCarthy and Suri escape the base; outside, McCarthy hands the base records to Dawson’s mother and leaves to start a new life with Machine.
In the final scene, McCarthy talks to a computer virtualisation of his daughter and she requests to play a game with her mother. McCarthy hands the tablet to Machine, and she is then shown gazing alternately at the device and at a beautiful orange hued sunset over the Atlantic Ocean.
As he gazes at Machine, it seems he realizes he represents the past now, and machine represents the future, and the world will never be the same from that point forward.