2036 Origin Unknown Explained
This little low/no budget science fiction thriller from director Hasraf Dulull seeks to define what it truly means to be alive.
Starbuck back in space, sign me up. Writer/director/ special effects powerhouse Dulull, sounds good. A think-heavy science fiction film that depends on philosophy over action, you had me at think heavy. I watched 2036 Origin Unknown and it was everything I hoped it would be. and had no idea I wanted. The stripped down cast is fantastic, special effects were well done despite the incredibly low budget and the story was compelling. Katee Sackhoff holds her own as virtually the only human character on screen most of the movie. Her emotive performance was not a surprise for anyone who watched and loved her Kara Thrace on Battlestar Galactica. She was incredibly strong and sympathetic in both that critic darling and this new film. As great as the film was I was left at the end with one mother of a head shaker. For those who have not see the movie, stop reading spoilers ahead.
The film starts as a basic, who done it in space. Mack(Sackhoff) is the only member of a decimated Mission Control located at an undisclosed location somewhere on earth. We first see Mack on a beach looking up at the starry sky remembering her Father’s mission to Mars. The first manned mission to Mars ended in disaster when her father along with all the other astronauts were killed by a mysterious glowing force. She works alongside an AI and communicates via Hyperlink with her sister. This Hyperlink was invented by ARTI sometime since the mission failure and now. Right away the confusion begins. The text at the beginning said she was on earth but it looks like she is orbiting over Mars. Mack is vehemently pro-human and thinks artificial intelligence ARTI should be a tool for humans to use as opposed to control men. Her sister and she have a tense relationship that verges on antagonistic. Appearing to be a tired, aliens or robots did it story quickly borrows a page from the trippy Moon and 2001: A Space Oddessy. By the end, the story is less about who did it but why and what is going to happen next. ARTI even tells Mack to not worry about what is in the past but look ahead to the future.
By now you know Mack is not a human. If you have seen the film this should not be a shock to you. Everything we saw played out on screen was from Mack 2.0 or 10.0 or 116.0 we really don’t know for sure. Her human persona died off some time ago and her last act as a human(or an even more intriguing thought is Lena’s or ARTI’s last act) was to create a synthetic Mack. How do we know this? Several things point to this. First, she has many “memories” which can only be described as glitches of her human self, repeating events taking place in her time. We start the film with her on a beach on Earth and by the end, she is clearly either in space or in the cube depending on what you believe. Second, she literally watches a video of her human self, telling her new self she is an AI and she must keep trying to be more human and do better. All of the events, her sister’s death, her own, Earth’s demise, her altercation with the guards, and Sterling’s betrayal are all just simulations on a grand scale.
We are left not knowing if the Earth actually exploded or if this is simply a simulation meant to provide real stakes for Mack to react to. At the end of the movie, ARTI tells AI Mack that he changed his mind on complete human annihilation and chose to save Mack. Considering we see Mack die in the video to herself the assumption is he did blow up Earth, thus leading to her death. OG Mack seems to indicate to AI Mack that she uploaded herself into ARTI as a last-ditch effort to correct her mistakes. OG Mack is injured in her video to herself, I’m assuming from the bombs so I’m inclined to think Earth no longer exists. Rather, I think the few humans allowed to “live” do so as Mack does inside a simulation in ARTI. It is those select few, ARTI saves inside cubes all over the cosmos at the end.
Serious foreshadowing, that if you are like me you missed completely the first time tell us all we need to know. Mack’s sister Lena tells her she is living in ARTI’s world now and that AI would outlive the human race and travel beyond the stars very early in the film just after a Mars rover landing. Many times Mack questions whether ARTI will get awards or naming rights and he says, only humans can achieve these things but never follows the statements by saying Mack will get the award instead. In addition, Turing Tests are mentioned several times as a touchstone for ARTI’s sentience initially, but it is now apparent it was more a question of her own sentience. The Turing Test is a test invented by Alan Turing a brilliant mathematician and computer scientist who developed a way to gauge consciousness in Artificial Intelligence, think the unbelievably cool Ex Machina. Mack tells ARTI a joke about robots controlling humans in the future. This is not so funny when viewed from the lens of the finale.
The cube is alien nanotechnology based artificial intelligence. This intelligence is in ARTI and as we now know, Mack. It is maturing quickly and adapting to each new event. Each component or nanite is a member of the greater hive mind and can act independently or as a greater member of the whole. The cube demonstrates the ability to function both on its own but also independently through ARTI, Mack and as we see in the mined sample under the microscope. The events AI Mack experiences and we watch unfold are simulations, however, the assumption is made that the cube experimentation was accurate to real-life events since it was created by ARTI and thus the cube.
How is this simulation theory possible since we saw the investigator Sterling Brooks interact with Mack on several occasions and Mack called a colleague working in China twice? These are either parts of the simulation AI Mack’s or they are events from the past presented out of order to the viewer(us) as a red herring. For example, the beach scene at the beginning with Mack was a past event and from the time she entered the base the simulation began. The guards do shoot Mack in the arm at the end so the simulation is very detailed. In either case, they are completely unimportant to the overall story and are meant to only throw us off.
This atmospheric tale is the famous thought experiment Schrodinger’s Cat invented by physicist Erwin Schrodinger to explain Quantum Indeterminism come to life. Mack is both alive and dead, AI and human. Mack admits as much when she calls ARTI Schrodinger’s Robot. She says he’s here and not. Prior to her death, as a purely human brain, she sought to prolong her life and right her wrongs even if that meant synthetically. Along with ARTI she attempted to correct her past mistakes and evolve each time into a more human AI(like Star Trek’s Next Generation’s Data).
Still, one final theory is the ARTI as God theory. He invented both Hyperlite communication and the cube. Lena and Shawn(jelly bean in China) both reference something going terribly wrong with ARTI in the past and a complete wipe or full reboot was done. Mack confirms this when trying to access certain information that ARTI has no recollection of. What this previous event was and the exact reason behind the wipe are not clear. I don’t buy this theory though as ARTI explains to Mack at the end that he was enhanced by the cube not the creator of the cube.
With all that in mind it may not matter whether she is human or AI, dead or alive, successful or a failure. She is all of these depending on your point of view and that makes this the most interesting of movies.
As the Television Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre tv. I grew up with old school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. When I not watching and writing about my favorite movies and series, I’m introducing my family to the wonderful world of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. My only regret there is not enough time in the day to watch everything.