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Movie Uncanny Reviewed and Explained
Every now and again I stumble across brilliant thinking movies long before anyone else does. I know that I’m in the quiet eye of the storm when I walk out of a movie, slack jawed, in awe, and then go looking for the conversations about said movie online. And then, all I hear, is the following:
And that’s when I know, I have got to write about this movie because the fields are ripe unto harvest. Some of my favorite examples of the recent past have been, Time Lapse, Coherence, Z for Zachariah, and The One I Love. There are tons more obviously…but I absolutely adore finding these diamonds in the rough and just tearing them apart and grappling with them. So, yeah, all that to say, I’m super excited to bring Uncanny to you guys here. I will be doing a high level overview of the movie, without spoilers, and then lower down in the review I’ll let you know when I plan to delve deep into spoiler land. So for now, if you haven’t seen the movie, you are still safe…for now anyway.
Uncanny, the movie, begins with David Kressen who is an wunderkind. He is a child prodigy who graduated from MIT a decade ago at age 19 and has since disappeared from the world’s spotlight. The day David graduated from MIT he was approached by the CEO and founder of Kestrel Computing, Simon Castle, to come work for Workspace 18. Workspace 18 was a skunk works, think tank, that implements incognito design and development work for Castle. It was an opportunity for Kressen to do absolutely anything he wanted to do. Over the last ten years, David has been working tirelessly inside Workspace 18, perfecting his ultimate creation: Adam, an artificial intelligence that is indistinguishable from an actual human being.
Enter Joy Andrews, a reporter brought in for a week of exclusive access to do a series of interviews about Adam and his creator David. She initially regards the robot with curiosity but as their interactions build, Adam seems to begin responding to her presence in interesting new ways. Could he possibly be exhibiting emergent behavior that means he is becoming self aware? And David conversely, who initially was seen as arrogant, starts shifting into more of a naive, clueless sheltered kid, who looks on as the world is moving without him.
Ultimately this movie is about this trio, Joy, David and Adam. It’s a love triangle of the strangest sorts. Joy becomes interested in David. Adam is interested in Joy. And it’s obvious that David is most interested in his creation, Adam. And it’s in and amongst this rapidly evolving interplay that the magic of this movie evolves and grows.
The few reviews I have seen that are out for Uncanny discuss how “boring” this movie is. But I’m also sure that they have no idea how nuanced this movie is. That not everything here is what it seems. That the dialogue we are experiencing has other meanings and other purposes here. And if you aren’t tracking them all simultaneously you’ll miss the larger point of this movie. But hey, this definitely isn’t Transformers, or the latest Jurassic Park. And thank God for that. Not everyone wants bombasticness riddling their movies.
Regardless, here is the trailer for the movie Uncanny – you decide for yourself if it’s worth your time.
Uncanny Critical Acclaim
Unsurprisingly, Uncanny is blowing up the film festival circuit. Uncanny has received overwhelmingly positive reactions from Ain’t It Cool News which called it “a rare breed of thoughtful, independent science fiction.” And from Sight & Sound Magazine which said that Uncanny was “Confident, meticulously crafted….written with sharp brilliance and performed with perfect nuance.” The film won the Best Film Award at the Boston Sci-Fi Festival and made its International premiere at the 2015 Edinburgh International Film Festival.
And it makes sense that this movie is doing well on the international film circuit. When it was created by writer Shahin Chandrasoma, and Director Matthew Leutwyler, they were looking to develop something that was a heady science fiction film together. All of Shahin’s ideas were much too complex to run on the budget that Leutwyler had available. But then Shahin said, oh, by the way, what about the idea of a robot? And a woman reviewing the robot? And this crazy triangle that comes about as a result? Leutwyler was sold. Writing started the next day.
Once the idea had been nailed down Leutwyler and his producer Sim they realized they really didn’t need much to make the movie, so they went off to their friends and their families to get the money to float the film. Once the money had been raised, casting began and then shooting began. From the first idea pitch, to the movie wrap, took only 4 months. Which is really quite crazy to consider from a movie development standpoint. But it is it’s heady topics around robotic AI and, more importantly, the idea of the Uncanny Valley that make this movie the critical success that it has been.
The Uncanny Valley
Robotics professor Masahiro Mori coined the term The Uncanny Valley to explain his theory, which holds that when human features look and move almost, but not exactly, like real human beings, it causes a response of repulsion among some human observers. The “valley” refers to the dip in a graph of the comfort level of humans as subjects move toward a healthy, natural human likeness described in a function of a subject’s aesthetic acceptability.
The uncanny valley, with regards to the movie Uncanny, is something a little different. The movie investigates the edges of this theory and where our perception of the valley edges are. If that makes sense. If you haven’t seen the movie, I’m still trying to be very vague. But the theory is important to some of the deeper themes that Shahin Chandrasoma is trying to investigate.
The movie’s conversation with the audience is an interesting one. It’s a three part conversation, which I always love. The scale of the movie is very small. Even smaller than a play really. The movie is all about the micro-gravitational pulls between the individual characters. Sometimes it’s all about David and Adam. Other times it’s all about Joy and Adam. Other times it’s about David and Joy. Each relationship is fascinating, for different reasons. Each conversation reveals something new about the character.
But let’s discuss the elephant in the room. This movie is going to suffer from Ex Machina shadow syndrome. Although Uncanny technically released prior to Ex Machina, Ex Machina released wide and big, where as Uncanny chose to hit the film circuit first. But because Uncanny and Ex Machina are basically the same movie there is a perception problem here for Uncanny. Genius invents near perfect robot. Developer comes and investigates how good the robot is. The only big change is that the robot is male in Uncanny, and it’s female in Ex Machina. Which actually, is not an insignificant change. But I would argue that Uncanny stands on its own two feet and unearths totally new territory that Ex Machina didn’t cover…which I will delve into later. But ultimately, while they are very similar movies and investigate very similar ideas, Uncanny has a much better ending that is way more open ended and open to interpretation.
Uncanny Movie Explanation
Alright, so if you haven’t seen the movie, this would be your stop. Time to get off the train. If you’d like to watch the movie right now, you can do so over at Amazon. So go watch it…and then you can finish reading below. Got it? Great. Because I’m going to pop the lid completely off this movie now.
— wait for it —
Adult swim? All the kids out of the pool? Great. So now that I am only talking to you folks that are interested in what the heck happened in this movie, the tenor of this piece can TOTALLY change.
So you just finished Uncanny, and you decide, “Holy mother of all that’s good and pure…what just happened?” and you flip open Google and end up here. The first thing you need to understand are who the characters are. Without understanding the default characters we cannot continue forward. Then from there we can spin these “default characters” on their head and get to some real resolution.
Joy: Possibly the simplest of all the characters to understand. Joy is the technologist who has been sent to Warehouse 18 to review some cutting edge technology she was promised to see. We know that Joy worked at a fairly large game development firm wherein she became independently wealthy as a result. She chooses to continue working just because she enjoys the technology and the challenge of it. She’s wandered away from the technology, but wishes she hadn’t. Joy begins to have feelings for David, and they have their first date.
David: The wunderkind engineer and developer who has created the world’s first perfect cyborg. Left MIT immediately to join Warehouse 18. 10 years later, David is still living and working out of the confines of 18. He generally never leaves his work and therefore has social skills that are no better than the the robot he has created as a result.
Adam: The world’s very first “perfect” cyborg. Adam has begun to feel, to a certain degree, which could be the beginnings of an emergent consciousness. And as a result Adam has a very tenuous relationship his creator, David. The two seem to be jealous of each other constantly. Both are always vying for the attention of Joy and there is plenty of conflict now that she is in the picture.
Castle: Of the four characters in Uncanny, Castle is the most enigmatic. We know that Castle is the money and the brain behind the Warehouses. We know that Castle recruited David initially. And that most importantly, Castle is the one that has coordinated Joy’s week long interview experience with David and Adam.
But now that you have made it to the end of the film…you “know” that these bios on these characters are wrong from beginning to the end. Why don’t we try again? And this time, I am going to lay a little truth on you, and I’ll work backwards to explain it afterwards.
Joy-Redux: Joy has probably been selected by Castle on purpose and for a very specific reason. Joy is a one-time geek and yet, still beautiful, so that maybe she will catch the eye of David, or maybe more importantly Adam? Joy is a riddle and an enigma, but probably, most likely, just a pawn used by Castle for his own research purposes.
David-Redux: At the end of the movie, we learn, that David is actually the robot, and Adam is the creator. We know that Joy was successfully duped by the robot, and Castle’s test was a stunning success. David was not an MIT grad. He was developed there at Warehouse 18, and has never been outside the premises, ever. David played the part well of the condescending creator…but that is all it was. “All my memories are here, I can’t remember a time before this place.”
Adam-Redux: Well, if Adam isn’t the robot then what is he? Is he the creator of David then? Nope. Adam is also a robot. Both Adam and David were both developed by Castle and were placed in front of Joy as a sort of crazy control group to see what Joy would do with either of them. Castle’s test was a success in every way. I’ll get into the argument for this a little later, but suffice it to say, Adam had an equal grasp of reality to David’s…which wasn’t much.
Castle-Redux: You didn’t think Rainn would have a critically unimportant role in this movie, did you? Castle is the inventor of both David and Adam and has placed David in charge of Adam for the purposes of this test with Joy. Castle loses control of David due to Adam’s faulty logic and programming that allows David to leave the premises without approval. Castle was lucky to get his multi-billion dollar creation back without any significant issues or political fall out.
My Uncanny Theory Explained
Castle is constantly watching all the proceedings on cameras over the course of the entire week. There isn’t a moment when he isn’t watching. Why? Why would Castle need to keep such a close grasp on the situation? Well, because he is allowing both of the robots that he has created to interact with a human unattended, and unsupervised. It is this test that will tell him whether or not his creations are ready for the real world.
Not only had Castle made the robots capable of managing each other, but he also utilized them to create each other. We see a number of scenes wherein David denigrates Adam’s capabilities…(“Don’t bother, Adam is incapable of playing this game without practice.”) and then later on we see Adam doing highly complex physical work. Remember his working on the eyeball? Adam mentions he wishes he were more capable, but Joy marvels at what he was able to accomplish on his own. This wasn’t puffed up flattery…the robot was physically creating a very real world eyeball facsimile. All I know is that I wouldn’t have been able to do what he was doing. Most importantly, we watch as Adam physically disembowels David and removes his central processing unit without even a hitch or a thought.
Uncanny Movie Conclusions
Think through this a second, if Adam was actually the creator, then maybe he was the one that graduated from MIT and immediately took the job at Warehouse 18. But, no one agrees to take a job and then agrees to never leave that job for ten solid years. That just doesn’t make any sense. And yet, Adam never left. When Castle discussed with Adam the fact that he would be heading to work for the NSA at Warehouse 29, that he didn’t need a break, we realize that this is either slavery…or Adam is also a robot. Right?
Well over 2,500 words later I’m only just starting to get to the meat of the good stuff. Uncanny sets up our truth, and then pulls it out from under our feet….only to do it all over again with the final shots of the movie. Adam, staring at the photo of Joy, is our final tell that Adam is also a created entity by Castle. We see that competitiveness that warred between Adam and David came to a head over Joy. It was so bad that one created being decided he was going to dismantle and gut his competitor in front of Joy.
So, if David had been quick enough (from a CPU standpoint, let alone a muscle reflex standpoint) maybe he could have gotten the drop on his counterpart. But he didn’t. And this was the final test of Castle’s. This was the final User Acceptance Testing of his robots. And the test was called, “Survival Of The Fittest.” And so we know who was the better unit. We learned which robot was the better of the two. We know now which robot should go into production, or better yet, which unit should begin creating other units based on his own design.
From a sheer enjoyment standpoint, I adored Uncanny. Many won’t like it because they are too slow. Oh, wait, I meant to say, because the MOVIE was too slow. Sorry about that! hahaha. Seriously though, many will think it boring. But I found it riveting in every way. I really did enjoy the movie. Like a lot. I think reader’s of my blog will be enamored with it as well. If you haven’t seen it, and you somehow read this far…you don’t listen to instructions well. And just go see it. I’m sure my ravings didn’t make much sense to you! haha.
Uncanny Followup – Mind Is Now Blown
Dhani just made the first comment below, and completely blew my mind. Dhani made the comment that after the credits (which I completely didn’t stick around for, because I was too busy bee-lining it for the blog to write this massive explanation out) Joy is shown with a pregnancy test that is positive. Which means, nope, which indicates, no…let me come in again.
So yeah, I just re-watched the ending after the credits… and here is what I completely and totally missed:
Hahaha – that is so awesome. Makes me think that I should do a post about the best post credit mind jobs of all time. Are there any out there better than this one? Brilliant. OK, so if Joy is pregnant then we have several options on our hands…
Post Credits Uncanny Twist Options
option #1 – If Joy is pregnant the most obvious option is that the technology went to 11. That somehow, Castle figured out how to store and transmit sperm via his robots. Hrm.
option #2 – Another option is that David actually wasn’t a robot. If he wasn’t, then we watched Adam (the robot) murder his creator, and make it look like he was a robot. That’s a fairly grizzly option.
option #3 – What? No idea here. Joy’s a robot too?! hahaha. What other options are there here guys?
After letting the comments go a while, and thinking about it myself, I think the options are fairly simple (though mind boggling) – thanks Nobes for helping me pull these together:
1) There is one robot (the original definition of who’s who).
2) There is one robot (switched from the original definition of which was which).
3) We have the, “both are robots” which I am partial to.
4) And then we have the mind blowing option that “neither are robots.”
And the piece de resistance 5) pick an option 1 – 4 and also, Castle is a robot too.
Regardless, what a fantastic final flip, end scene, for such a good movie. I think I’m in love. What a brilliant play. I have GOT to hear from you guys. What do you think? Was David actually a human or was he a robot? That’s really the only question anymore.
Edited by: CY