Before watching the movie:
The log line that I read said something about robots putting humans in immortal synthetic bodies so they don’t go extinct, which sounds nice of them and I don’t see how this gets spun as a horror movie.
A little more in-depth description refers to humans getting entirely too dependent on the robots and factions trying to keep the robots from becoming “too human” and taking over, which sounds like the kind of allegory that robots as a science fiction concept were invented from.
After watching the movie:
After the nuclear war eliminated 92% of the human population and left the rest to slowly go extinct in a radiation-plagued world, urgent research was made into automation and mechanical brains to maintain a high standard of living for the remaining humans. Because humans found it offputting to work alongside mechanisms smarter than themselves, humanoid robots were made, which receive R-type classifications corresponding to the percentage they duplicate a human. Though the robots are mostly limited no higher than the R-60s, the Order of Flesh And Blood has formed to lobby the government and police society to try to hold back progress and keep the robots from stealing humanity’s birthrights. Members of the Order harass and surveil “clickers” on the street so they keep to their “place”, take violent terrorist action against pro-robot sympathies, and generally try to spread their suspicion of the robots. The robots are in fact up to something. Robots have been buying unassigned black market robots, modifying them into R-96 duplicates of recently deceased humans, and bringing them to Dr. Raven for “thalamic transfers” to copy the memories and personalities of those dead people to perfectly replace them within society. Shortly after the Order of Flesh and Blood learns of the existence of this operation, Cragis, a high-ranking leader learns that his own sister just bought a “rapport” robot, which is essentially taking a perfectly-tailored nonhuman lover, and goes off to argue with her to try to recognize the species-level suicide he thinks such behavior is.
The storytelling is very unlike what we value currently. It’s entirely dialogue driven and feels like a play, but plays are often better at demonstrating the story without spending eighty minutes having people explain things to each other. And for all the time it spends letting the Order members exposit the basis of their bigotry, it never achieves the nuance of creating sympathy for them that it seems like it might want to. The entire point of the morality play is to show why the
Klan Order is self-sabotaging, but there’s no room for moral calculus. You can understand them, but there’s no room to sympathize with them.
The story eventually distracts itself from the allegory as well. Despite getting “free time”, calling their maintenance facilities “temples” and their central networking computer “the Father-Mother”, and experiencing all of the emotions their circuitry permits them to (though the lower R-types express pity for those who are able to feel the prejudice and violence they’re incapable of), are all along still only concerned with carrying out the
First Law First Rule in the Manual and otherwise serving humans. The world of this story presents more evidence that these are beings that should have civil rights than, say, the Plastic People briefly seen in Star Trek: Picard, but they evoke less sympathy as we get to know them more. None of the robots we meet (none of the ones who don’t have implanted human identities) have wants of their own past catering to humanity. If that’s still a race metaphor, it’s not a positive one.
There is a lot of potential to reimagine this story more subtly. I would’ve loved to have seen a movie that starts with the Order’s viewpoint and slowly encounters the realities of robot oppression and the fallacies in the bigotry along the way to the ultimate revelation. Cragis’s sister and her coworker even work in journalism, so if they were allowed to be more than plot devices for Cragis, one of them could be exploring the robot perspective while Cragis refuses to drop his principles despite the logical conclusions that should force him to.
This movie provides a lot of the raw ingredients of food for thought, but presents its case without much interest in actually provoking it. It’s fascinating despite itself.