Rates: * * * 1/2
Why Did I Watch It? First selection from the new lockdown movie club I joined.
In an undisclosed location (possibly Earth) at an undisclosed time (probably the future), the remnants of humanity live in an infinite, AI controlled city. Our future descendant’s ancestors (uncorkscrew that one) created this fancy tech, but lost control of it. Now an undisclosed number (presumed to be small) of human holdouts struggle to survive in the margins; hunted by the machines like vermin, and usually on the verge of starvation.
Complicated, dense and bleak, this Netflix original anime also offers plenty of wild ideas and energetic action. It is at its best as an evocation of a dystopian nightmare. The endless city is imaginatively designed, and its scale provides the story with a unique atmosphere; there is something strangely compelling, even eerie, about the vast spaces the characters move through. They are dwarfed at all times by their environment; enormous machines and computers, equipment whose purpose they could only guess at.
The characters we follow live seemingly many generations after the human creators of the city. Their guns and armour are a stylish off white, and their helmets (sorry: helmetals) have three eye holes; the tech is scavenged and the original purpose of the stuff they find is unknown. This sense of lost history adds a mysterious element to the story; as quite a bit of it cannot be explained, you are never sure what is coming next.
The film plays with a number of topical thematic ideas. Super intelligent AI turning on its human creators is a concept we have seen in the Matrix and Terminator films (both of which are referenced, along with countless other cultural properties), and some kind of artificial intelligence seems likely this century. The consequences of this worry many, including prominent scientists like Stephen Hawking. Likewise, the nature of capitalist societies, with their focus on growth and consumption at the expense of the environment, is probably the issue of our times. One of the things this movie posits is what the endgame to our current path might look like: an entirely constructed environment, suitable only for mechanised organisms. An extreme take on our future, but not an impossible one.
The film ends on a hopeful tone, as a handful of villagers make their way to a safe new level (amusingly: just one level down from where they were before) and build a new community. This both suggests that humanities best instincts could survive any future catastrophe, and so give us another chance at redemption, and provides an opportunity for a sequel/series. And I’m in; I mean, apart from the Electro Fishers, what is everyone else up to? And those Builder robots? Also never explained: the title. I think we know who is to blame (ourselves), but what about the exclamation point?!