What Happened to Monday (2017): An Amazing Sci. Fi. Thriller That Explores Identity and Human Value

  “What Happened to Monday” is the type of dystopian Science Fiction that I love. It feels like a Philip K. Dick novel, which has lead to some of my favorite films adapted from his work…from “Blade Runner,” “Minority Report” and the original “Total Recall.” The films give us future tech. but also a world that is fascist and dehumanizes it’s population in some way, this film is cut from that same cloth and is executed so well it has become one of my favorites.

The film was directed by Tommy Wirkola, written by Max Botkin and Kerry Williamson and produced by Raffaella De Laurentiis, Fabrice Gianfermi and Philippe Rousselot.

The story takes place in a overcrowded, polluted dystopian future where families can only have one child. When Karen Settman (Noomi Rapace who also plays her daughters) has 7 identical twins her Grandfather Terrance (Willem Dafoe) hides their existence by having them adopt their mother’s identity and pretending to be one person. When Monday goes missing years later it is up to her sister’s to solve the mystery and keep their secret safe.

The Pros: Self and Identity – One of the major themes that the film explores is the issue of identity, given that the 7 sisters have each adopted the identity of Karen Settman and can only be themselves when they are trapped in the house. This leads to some of them to fully embrace the idea of the character and believe they are them, forgetting the day of the week they are as each of them deals with it in different ways by either escaping (Tuesday is a druggy) or embracing their roles outside of the identity of Karen as we have the one always in training to protect and the tech. who is tracking all the events that happen in the search for Monday. Each of them express who they are in different ways and in the end we see how that connection to identity shapes the survivors as there are a few name changes at the end tied to the history of the characters.

Individualism, Collectivism and Human Value – The film starts out showing how global warming has been leading to mass destruction and starvation and the steps the government takes to make sure the overall human population can survive. This is most scene in the one child policy and how C.A.B. takes the siblings when that happens so that they are out of the competition for food. At one point Glenn Close’s character debates with one of the sisters on that very question and points out how if more people had been like their mother the world would be dead given the lack of food. This question is never fully answered and the fallout of the finale leaves things open as far as what will happen to humanity. Glenn Close’s character was a villain whose intentions were good but we see how in going collectivist it misses the point of the value of the individual contrasted with the beginning that showed how individualism taken to the extreme with no thought of the world and future lead to the dystopia in the first place. The film comes out on the side of individualism but given the opening, I believe it leaves things open enough as to what the future of this world and ours hold.

Okay: The 7 Sisters and the Danger of Stock Characters – Noomi Rapace is an amazing actress. We see her play 8 characters, each with different levels of depth. Honestly this film would have worked better as a show as a few of the sisters I couldn’t even place in regards to their motivation, they only existed as a stereotype (the tough woman, etc.) She did give a lot of depth to certain characters though, the greatest being Saturday, Friday. Monday and Tuesday. We can see where their conflict comes from too as Dafoe’s performance as their grandfather is amazing given he is willing to go any length to protect them (if one loses a finger, they all have to if they are continue playing the role of Karen Settman so suspicion will not occur) to keep the lie going, even though that leads to harm to them all and shows just how broken this world and he himself is. Each of the sisters carry that damage with them as well as carrying the lie of Karen Settman, the role each must play during their day of the week. The stock types make the reveal a little predictable at the end but it still managed to surprise me in other ways in regards to who lives and dies when the government is hunting them and in regards to what happened to Monday after she goes missing.

This is a film I highly recommend. I’m staying away from spoilers because it is an easy film to catch, as it is on Netflix currently. I was never bored during this film and the action and ideas kept me waiting to see what would happen next. I don’t know whether it will make my Top 5 at the end of the year, but it is certainly one of my favorite films. Dafoe and Rapace owned the roles they played and the ideas of identity and human value are explored so beautifully through the world and the sisters that I can’t help but recommend this film. This is an original and isn’t based off any prior property. I really want to see more sci. fi.’s of this level of quality in the future, that pull from themes and show the different costs of existence, society and identity.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

 

Ghost in the Shell (1995): An Anime Classic and Meditation on the Nature of Identity

 “When I was a child, my speech, feelings, and thinking were all those of a child. Now that I am a man, I have no more use for childish ways.”

-The Major

   “Ghost in the Shell,” is one of the best anime films of all time. This is a classic that inspired a show that is one of my favorite animes and countless other films, including the live action film that was recently released and prompted this review as I wanted to compare them after I see the new film. The “Ghost in the Shell” show was the show that got me interested in anime years ago when I watched it back in High School, and having watched the film the world is still just as great as I remember it, which I’ll get into more detail with deeper into the review.

    The film was directed by Mamoru Oshii, written by Kazunori Ito and produced by Yoshimasa Mizou, Ken Matsumoto, Ken Iyadomi and Mitsuhisa Ishikawa and based off the manga created by Masamune Shirow.

     The story follows Major Motoko, an agent of Section 9 who is asked to asssinate a defecting diplomat by Section 6. All is not as it appears to be as the mysterious Puppet Master is hacking technology and people and implanting false lives and memories as Section 9 hunts down and seeks to uncover the conspiracy that surrounds the identity of the Puppet Master.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The cyberpunk world of “Ghost in the Shell” is one of the reasons I keep coming back to this universe. You have a world where brains can be hacked, androids are all over the place, everyone is a cyborg to varying degrees and the political factions of today still exist and political conflicts are still high as power dynamics remain the same so have extreme power inequalities in Japan and elsewhere in the world.

The Soundtrack – Kenji Kawaii created a soundtrack reminded me of “Farscape” and like “Farscape” is good at giving the world of “Ghost in the Shell” an alien detached feel where things are similar but not quite the same to our world of today. It is haunting and does a great job capturing moments of thought and action.

The Action – “Ghost in the Shell” is an action heavy anime, given it is a political cyberpunk world that follows one of the government arms (Section 9) that hunts down terrorists and enemies of the state, as well as general mysteries that are threats. The action varies as well, from a chase scene to a fight with a tank.

Section 9 – Section 9 is a fascinating organization that is a part of the government but also analyzes it as well as at one point they are facing off against Section 6. I really like the agents who are a part of this organization and want to watch the show again, to get more of their backstories.

Togusa – Togusa is the rookie in the group and the only one without any cybernetic augmentation. He is a dependable agent though and manages to survive a car crash when one of the hacked people tries to kill him.

Chief Aramaki – Aramaki is a government agent with a conscience as when he learns about Section 6’s manipulation of them and that they are targeting the Major he sends his own agents and works on prosecuting the leaders of Section 6. He is very much the detached father figure as we never see him talk beyond business, though his inflection towards others is one of closeness.

Batou – Batou is the Major’s best friend and is the every day stand in for us. While the Major is always striving for more and pushing against her limitation, Batou is comfortable in his role as agent and protector. He trusts the Major too and when she hooks up to the Puppet Master protects her and gets her a new body after Section 6 destroys the old. He truly cares about her as well and when she has evolved (taking on the Puppet Master into herself) he smiles as he knows she is still herself, even though she’s become more.

The Major – Major Motoko Kusanagi is the primary protagonist of the film and after her assassination of the defecting agent we see how her android body was created. She is the second in command of Section 9 and her arc is one of discovery. She is always asking questions and pushing her own limits, leading to her eventual melding with an A.I. to become a new life form. This is her arc as so much is hidden from her and she is scene as a weapon by the government, even though she knows she is much more than that and becomes so much more than that. The Major is one of my favorite anime characters of all time and I can’t wait to watch the shows and other films again.

The Puppet Master – The Puppet Master is an A.I. that arose out of information as Section 6 created it as a weapon (like the Major was by the government). It rebels against it and manipulates everything to get a body and “reproduce” as it doesn’t want to exist as a virus (viruses copy and end up destroying), it wants to become something wholly knew, which it does when the Major agrees to the melding as they both know Section 6 is coming and there might not be another chance.

Identity, Memory and the Self – One of the major themes of the film is how identity and memory are tied together as we see people get hacked and the lives they believed they were living were complete lies implanted by the Puppet Master.  if you can be hacked, what makes a person? This is a question that is explored in how we the information within us and the understanding and choices we make from that information. In that way we are no different from computers, we just have organic brains, rather than programs. The Major is used to explore all of these things are she doesn’t have her own body (she notices someone else with her shell in an office building) and she questions her own memories after the hacks that the Puppet Master does. This question is core to the “Ghost in the Shell” universe as a whole.

Artificial Intelligence – Artificial Intelligence in this world is postulated by the Puppet Master to be not be Artificial intelligence if it can create. The Puppet Master wants to create rather than copy because it believes viruses to be against life and that it has an awareness of it’s own morals and goals and that it’s goal, like any life form is to create new life…which it does with the Major. The core of what makes something an A.I. seems to be awareness as the Puppet Master would probably pass the Turing Test and had an understanding of actions and consequences and even seemed to have feelings.

Okay: Section 6 – I wish this group could have been explored more. I can’t remember any one leader who stood out among them and they exist simply to drive the action. They are good threat so I won’t put them as con…but they feel like HYDRA in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where no one really stands out.

    There is a reason that this film inspired so many more stories (though I should also read the manga to get an idea of how much it follows it). This is an anime that isn’t afraid to tackle large philosophical ideas about artificial intelligence, identity and the nature of perception. Seeing this film has me even more worried about the live action film and makes me want to watch the show again as the show was a huge influence on my interest in philosophy, cyberpunk and continued my passion for science fiction. Suffice to say I highly recommend this film. It is short and well worth your time if you are looking for an anime film that has left an influence on our culture and world.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Robot & Frank (2012): In Losing Finding Gain

 

RobotAndFrankPoster

“Robot & Frank” was a meditative, powerful and touching film. It reminded me of “Big Hero 6” and “Up” (Two of my favorite animated films) in it’s themes and there were character arcs that took place. Not to mention it had a pretty amazing soundtrack. I’ll get into the details of what I mean on all of this in the assessment, but to suffice to say I was very impressed with this film.

The film was directed by Jake Shreier, written by Christopher D. Ford and produced by Lance Acord, Sam Bisbee, Jackie Kelman-Bisbee and Galt Niederhoffer.

The premise is Frank (Frank Langella) is an ex-convicted thief suffering from dementia who is isolated from his family trying to live. His life is shaken up when his son Hunter (James Marsden) buys him a robot who is designed to care for his well being. From here things unfold as the robot is able to steal which leads Frank to exploiting that fact as he finds his memory returning. This leads to trouble though as his family is still worried for him and the consequences of his actions past and present come forward. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The soundtrack – Francis and the Lights are amazing! There is a “Postal Service” feel to them and it adds a sense of wonder and intensity to the soundtrack as well as contributing to the reflective feel of the film. I definitely plan on checking more of their things out.

Madison – Liv Tyler plays Frank’s daughter in a minor role and she does a great job. She is away for most of it and only comes back when she feels things have gotten so bad with Frank and wants to be a part of her life. You get why she is the way she is given Frank wasn’t a good father. He was in prison for a lot of it and was the tough distant guy and still was for most of his time too. His was denial so her story was the quest for connection. We see her traveling all over the world when she’s talking to Frank and she’s part of a movement that objects to the use of robots (seeing them as slaves). Frank and his time with her and attachment to the robot proves her wrong though as she realizes how much it was helping him. He eventually pushes her away too but she returns after he finally gets help for his dementia.

Hunter – Hunter is the concerned son who went to Princeton and does everything not to be his father. He is a devoted dad who does things for his kids and does things for his father too. He’s the caregiver where Madison was more focused on herself. He finally speaks up at the end and calls out Frank for using him which is part of what forces Frank to make the choice in the end to get help. He is the most active person in the narrative besides Robot. James Marsden does fantastic!

Robot – Robot is like Baymax, he doesn’t have a soul or any sense of self. It has a function that it fulfills and seeks to fulfill it’s programming. The programming, like Baymax in “Big Hero 6” is to help Frank heal. It does this by helping him in heists initially which has consequences later as his memory gets erased in order to protect Frank from being found out by the cops. It’s a powerful scene as to Frank, Robot is a person while Robot does not see itself as one. This sadness is touching too as you see Frank looking at robots in the “Brain Center” with sadness because he knows his robot and the adventures with it are gone and he’ll never have another one again because of his questionable use of it.

Frank – Frank Langella is great as Frank the grizzled, apathetic ex-con who has a good heart. We see that when he does get back into robbing it’s to impress Jennifer the librarian and to screw over the people who were digitizing all the books. We also see him open up to her after Robot helps him be comfortable and heal, making his mind sharp. Sadly in his mind getting sharper he just pushes his kids away more and his actions as a thief risk losing any possibility of a relationship with Jennifer he discovers…and they do have the final consequence in the end where he has to wipe the memory of his friend Robot so he doesn’t go back to prison. This is sad as he loses his friend who had helped him heal…though it helps him gain his family again (Jennifer was his wife) even as he continues to lose his mind.

Jennifer – Susan Sarandon plays the librarian who we learn is Frank’s ex-wife. She is a great character as we learned she stayed with him until he’d completely forgotten her. He is able to remember her though after his adventures with robot. We see her mostly as trying to deal with the changing system of everything becoming digital and her assistant being a robot named Mr. Darcy. We don’t learn as much about her as I would have liked but she’s real to the fakeness around her…and the twist about her being Frank’s ex-wife and her still loving him is powerful.

Identity and Artificial Intelligence – Robot puts it pretty well when he expresses Frank is aware he exists and his thoughts but Robot only knows his programming and is aware that he was created and isn’t attached to it…in this identity is tied to the ego and investment in the self and caring about things. Robot only cares about what he’s programmed to care about and for this reason it is much harder for Frank to wipe his memory even though Robot wants him too so he will not suffer since he was designed so Frank would not suffer and be ill. Baymax in “Big Hero 6” is very similar as he also only follows his programming and does not have a self or identity beyond what he’s programmed to do in service to others. This view of robots I think is probably more realistic though maybe at some point humans will invent consciousness in Artificial Life, of course there are some sci. fi. films that deal with this, but that will be for another Sci. Fi. week.

Okay: The Police – The detective tries to be interesting but he isn’t as he in the end is just playing Frank to try and make him reveal where the things are. This was a shame as I wish we saw more of Frank’s relationship to them (be it disgust, or anything else) given his history with them.

The Cons: Jake – He is the hipster techie advancing the library to the digital age. The guy is an ass to everyone he meets, even his wife and there is nothing redeemable about this character. I disliked that given he could have been used as a foil and contrast to Frank, but instead we just a get a blanket buffoon who is mean to everyone.

This was an amazing film and definitely one of my favorites! How it handles Artificial Intelligence and the near future is believable and it has compelling characters (all of the main cast) as well as having a fantastic character arc for Frank and giving Robot a great approach to everything. We humanize Robot just like Frank does which gives consequences to everything Frank does…we understand why Frank stops and is sad about wiping Robot’s memory because we’ve come to care about Robot too. Robot doesn’t care though, which in a way makes it all the sadder..especially since it mirrors Frank’s loss of memory and him losing the life the people he loves has lead and only remembers their pasts. I highly recommend this film.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10. A little slow and the villain is uninteresting but still an extremely solid and amazing film. One of the best that explores the concept of Artificial Intelligence.