If Blade Runner fell head over heels for Her, Automata would be their love child.
Balancing a moody, dystopic vision of the future (a likely reality at the rate we’re going) with an introspective meditation on what it means to be human, Gabe Ibanez and Antonio Banderas have created a film that celebrates the history of sci-fi and the future evolution of man.
In the world of Automata, robot servants have been created to aid the failing human population. With resources dwindling, robots are able to work longer and harder with less physical needs. The automatas are held in line by two rules: they are not allowed to harm a human or augment themselves, which includes self repair. We are introduced to this world through the eyes of insurance investigator Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas). Jacq is the man the automata manufacturing company sends out whenever there’s a report of a robot malfunctioning or violating the two laws.
Reporting to investigate a robot that was supposedly self-repairing, Jacq is sent on a quest through the underworld of the city to find the person who is augmenting the automatas. He will be confronted by crooked cops that hate the robots, a scientist that is fascinated by the apparent evolution of the androids, and finally, he will be confronted by something totally new, that even he couldn’t expect.
The movie is simple and plays to a lot of classic sci-fi tropes and visuals, but it’s not unheard of for a musician to start with a melody you’re familiar with and then build it into something wholly its own. Ibanez does that here. Unlike Blade Runner‘s Deckard, Banderas’ Vaucan is trying to find how these new machines will fit in our society, if they fit at all. The film would be meaningless if not for one of the strongest performances Antonio Banderas has ever given. Speaking to Banderas’ performance, the director of the film told Nerdist that he was able to shine, specifically because he was performing in a role not often given to latino actors.
Ibanez elaborated, “You know, sometimes in Hollywood it’s different. And mostly you have Spanish options to go further than these kinds of roles and do different kinds of roles. For Antonio, he was very interested to work in a completely different movie – science fiction movie, classic movie – and you know, in the script there is something special, because it’s a classic science fiction movie. Some movies – science fiction movies from the 60’s and the 70’s, and this is not the kind of science fiction movie that people are doing now.”
“So Antonio loved this kind of situation, in which he has to do something different, something difficult. The idea of making this movie in the way that classic science fiction movie was made was something that was very interesting for Antonio, because that was something very challenging,” Ibanez explained. “He had been working on the movie, first off to get the money to do the movie, and then to do the performance with a lot of passion – he’s very talented. Of course, it’s always different when you have to do something completely different. It’s difficult when you have to do something different than what you’ve done before, but it was very easy to work with Antonio.”
Automata joins the ranks of Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 and Elysium in its dire view of the direction we’re heading in as a society. Pollution, climate change, nuclear war, disease — if you turn on your television to the 24-hour news cycle, it’s all there. Automata goes exceptionally dark in its look at the fall of humanity. A lot of the film’s tone is very much pulled from looking not too far into our future, maybe — if we continue down this reckless path — a decade or 50 years from now.
Ibanez says that, like the great sci-fi directors he idolizes, he too wants his films to have deeper connections and that looking to the future is how we can steer the present. It’s this new-found realism that he hopes drives people to connect with the movie. “This kind of realistic way to understand science fiction is something that’s missing in the science fiction from the 50’s and 60’s,” Ibanez says. “It wasn’t very realistic. For me, it’s important to define the violence of the society. The violence from the human beings, like part of the legacy of the human beings is suspicious. At the end of the movie, we are telling the history of the monkey that doesn’t come down from the tree; the monkey that stayed, the apes that stayed in the tree. The violence from the humans in the movie is a very clear symbol of the decadence of the human beings.”
For Ibanez, using perhaps the most realistic depiction of the rise of artificial intelligence is a way to look at ourselves, and where we are going.
“We are trying to tell how this species of the human being is going down, at the same time that the artificial intelligence is going up. We’re staring at the way of the universe, where the robots are moral robots, and the violence comes from the humans. That’s something we used in the movie to talk about the human beings, because at the end, the only victim of science fiction is the human beings, and that is important. When we are talking about robots, we are talking about human beings.”
Automata is in theaters and available on VOD today.