Directed by Gavin Rothery
Written by Gavin Rothery
Starring Theo James, Stacy Martin, Rhona Mitra and Toby Jones
Can a machine decide to die? That’s the jumping off point for Gavin Rothery’s soulful yet haunting first film, Archive. Once Artificial Intelligence is truly realized and a now fully cognizant cyborg is unplugged and takes stock of its situation, what if it doesn’t want to be a part of this grand new world? From that perspective, the concept of living or dying becomes exquisitely simple for a machine, even if, as humans, we would try everything for just one more breath or one more shared moment together.
On the other end, we’re introduced to a brilliant, slightly mad scientist trying to cheat death by using a breakthrough in technology to resurrect his dead wife. Those two central motives – the birth of A.I. and its relationship and application to our our own deaths – make Archive incredibly compelling and totally in line with other recent sci-fi standouts like Moon and Ex Machina.
In her living years, Jules (Stacy Martin) seems relatively happy alongside her husband George (Theo James) even though he is completely consumed with his work. Through the Archive Corporation, George’s ultimate goal is to use A.I. to download the consciousness of someone near death so they can get their affairs in order. When Jules dies in an accident, he becomes obsessed with preserving her inside a new and improved robotic body that will become the first true human-equivalent AI. Held up in a remote Japanese facility in the near future of 2038, George winds up creating a strange new kind of nuclear family consisting of three robot versions of Jules: the child-like J-01, the precocious teen J-02, and the sleek prototype J-03 that finally resembles his deceased wife. When outside forces begin to threaten the project and the new relationships inside start to break down in unexpected ways, George begins to realize that sometimes the idea of the person is better than the reality. Maybe you just can’t put a patent on love.
Through careful, meticulous world building and and an emphasis on creating small character moments, Gavin Rothery accomplishes a look and feel that doesn’t overwhelm the performances of Theo James and Stacy Martin, it’s in step with them. As J-03, Martin’s performance comes through the cyborg prosthetics and VFX beautifully as she walks the line between curious, loving, and terrified about what’s happening to her. Rothery worked side-by-side with Duncan Jones to create the remote world of Moon, and in watching Martin emote as a half-bodied J-03 attached to a giant robotic arm, two things are clear: Rothery has the eye for detail and the patience to allow for great performances. Although it’s not easy to best Sam Rockwell’s turn as a couple of lonely clones in Moon, Theo James makes you root for George, even if it’s his ego driving him forward, not love. This combination of director and actors help to create a visually captivating chamber piece that drives home the idea that the pain of being reawakened can be worse than being alive.
And of course, the most memorable sci-fi always has to have an evil corporation. In fact, in Archive, there may even be two. The titular Archive Corporation and a company called Somnolent are both death dealers, and their unchecked power is personified in a hardboiled, cyberpunk Risk Assessor (Peter Ferdinando) sent to investigate George and his progress. In this world, what would be considered a boring job here is quite dangerous, it seems. Owned entirely by the corporation, he is essentially a slave and his body is reconfigured over and over again to suit the needs of the operation. Toby Jones as a lackey for Archive also shows the ugly head of these powerful, mysterious corporations that dominate the landscape without any regulation whatsoever. It’s clear that Rothery loves to develop the logos and ships for these heartless conglomerates, and their overall design adds another layer to the rich world of Archive.
In one later scene, after giving his “wife” a treat to try eating, George tells her, “It’s a simulation. You don’t need it but you can have all the fun of enjoying it.” It’s almost as if he’s speaking directly about her without even realizing it. He’s admiring his creation, not because he’s in love but because he can now relish in his own invention. Delivering some unsettling moments at times that make us think about how we want to manufacture our own future, Archive continues the mission of all meaningful science fiction to caution us about our heads getting in the way of our hearts. Granted, there aren’t a myriad of choices to look at over the last hundred years of sci-fi filmmaking, but the unique multiple performances from Stacy Martin and the world building of Gavin Rothery just might make Archive one of the best robot movies since Metropolis.
Archive will be in Virtual Cinema Screenings, On Demand and Digital on July 10, 2020.
Archive honors the great sci-fi visuals of the past and pushes modern sci-fi a little farther into the future.