The idea of robots taking over the world has been a mainstay of science fiction canon. If I’m honest, I lived off of the Terminator series. Eventually, I got a bit more sophisticated with my tastes(I’m still down for a little T action, though) opting for psychological thrillers as opposed to action-packed shooters. This, of course, changed the movies I seek out. Now instead of killing machines, I would watch Ex Machina and revel in AI ethics. Archive fills that niche between ethical dilemmas, futuristic technology advancements, and psychological mindbender. Here’s everything you need to know about that twisty ending. As always, spoilers ahead.
Archive takes place in a gorgeous wintery mountainside in Japan where George(Theo James), is tasked with building robots and getting the site up and going again. Beside him are J-1 and J-2, previous iterations of his work. We learn later he is not just trying to make any robot but something specific that can house his dead wife’s consciousness courtesy of an illegal download from Archive a program that allows the deceased to find closure with their loved ones for 200 hours. It is a ridiculously chunky beast of a machine far too inelegant for the future. George is no doubt brilliant, but his wife’s death haunts him and early on complains he can’t communicate with her as often as he would like. It seems his system doesn’t always work as well as it should.
Taking care of children is difficult, as George soon finds out. He treats J1 and J2 like offspring despite the fact they are stepping stones to making his wife. It’s a creepy dichotomy that serves to drive the ambiguity of his morality. His children may be robots, but they have complex emotions all the same. In fact, the jealously and dispair at rejection is one of the best parts of Archive. J-2 struggles to watch George dance and interact with J3. She understands instinctively she is not enough for him and is hurt. “I’m not ok,” J2 says, arguing that using her parts for J3 is not acceptable.
George feels terrible but clearly not enough to do anything significant about it. He takes advantage of his creations, which in turn, pushes J-2 to commit suicide. In the second-best scene in the movie, we see her walk off into a lake in a slow shamble ending her life. I nearly bawled my eyes out. Her pain is palpable and puts the importance of creating life front and center. Timea Maday Kinga, the actor behind J2, is fantastic using her voice and subtle movements to convey her grief. We have a responsibility for our creations, whether they are made of steel and plastic or not.
Are Robots Our Children, Pets, Or Property?
The question is, should robots have protections, or are they subject to their master whim? To answer this, we ought to take a look at pets. Animals have slowly achieved protections to protect them from harmful people. In 1966, the Animal Welfare Act was signed to prevent animal abuse in experiments. Recently, President Donald Trump signed a law making animal cruelty a federal law(even he can get some things right). We know animals are capable of feeling pain. We also know the robots in Archive are capable of intense emotional pain. Depression in a robot might seem comical, but in Archive, it is all too real. Preventing such suffering is necessary. Bottom line: if you think it has consciousness, then it ought to be protected.
Jules Isn’t Dead, George Is.
At the end of the movie, it is revealed that everything is not quite what it seems. George finds out that it isn’t his wife that is in the Archive, it’s him. Everything that happened is inside George’s digital brain. There isn’t company security outside looking to throw him in jail. There is no J-1, 2, or 3. George himself does not exist. The movie tries to warn us of this.
George complains that he can never call his wife in the Archive, that she can only call him, and the geisha painting J2 sees as she is dying is the same person George sees as he is dying in the car accident. His brain has created this fantasy world to protect his sanity. To keep him from realizing he is dead. He can’t let go of either his wife or his work, and so he weaved together a tapestry that would allow both to exist still.
Death is as much a part of life as living. There’s a beginning, some fun stuff in the middle, and then the end. We often don’t get to choose how we die, when we die, and almost never dictate what happens after we die. For most people, the prospect is terrifying. I think that’s why his mind created this fantasy world. George is scared and insecure. He needs his work to give him purpose(cue his impossibly beautiful lab in Japan). He needs to be able to see his wife(see the J series robots ). Most people can manufacture fantasies of their own, albeit theirs usually end up on screens or books. The difference is the intentions of the illusion. George’s fantasies save him from an afterlife of despair.
The Flashbacks Are The Key.
During the movie, we are given flashbacks of his marriage. One of the most contentious is the argument he has with his wife about the Archive system. The debate is spread over a couple of these episodes. They come to a climax when George is woken up one night by his distraught wife. She refuses to be put in the Archive when she dies someday. For Jules, it is inhumane and morally wrong. George argues but eventually deflects rather than agree. This gives the audience another clue that our POV isn’t the real one.
He Needed Closure, Not Her.
Not only was archived George not capable of letting Jules go and seemingly keeping his promise, but in the end, she honored his wishes. Despite her asking not to be put into the machine, she allows George his time there. His wife may seem a hypocrite for doing this, but it is what he wanted. If you were given a chance to speak with the dead, even for a limited time, most people would take it. Giving George life after death allows George, if not his wife, and child to find closure. Traditionally funerals are for the living, and Archive would normally be the same. In George’s case, the 200 hours were for him, not her.
We are told that the archived brain doesn’t last forever, only 200 hours. Eventually, the system breaks down, and the digital deceased are put to rest. Just as we all fear dying in real life, any digital version of a person must also fear death and makes his last days “ alive” as an incredibly surreal psychological experience. His brain knew inherently that it was dead, and its time was waning. Each of his robots also sensed time moving around them. It is why each of them expresses deep insecurities about losing time during sleep mode and losing control of their bodies. They are the symbolic representation his mind made.
As much as the twist is good, this film is really about humanity in death. Archive lives and dies(no pun intended) on Theo James’ performance. Similar to 2036 Origin Unknown there are very few other cast members and none of them have nearly as much screen time as he does. The entire movie is devoted to seeing him into the oblivion and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone else capable of making every scene as memorable without him. If you haven’t seen the movie, WATCH IT. It’s streaming everywhere VOD now.
Obsessed with the old gods and everything that resembles Lovecraft, Zach spends his days exploring the twists of horror films and can’t wait to discuss the latest explanations of any story