Godmachine. Dir. Richard Cranor, 2012. Starring Robert Leeshock and Von Flores. 22:42 minutes.Reviewed by Paul Wilks
Godmachine, a short promotional sci-fi film, is set in a futuristic dystopia of transient computer viruses and menacing global corporations. The protagonist John Lee, a traumatised war veteran, is tasked to destroy a computer virus which grants sentient cognition to androids. Things do not go to plan and the virus infects John through his own technological implants. Grace, an android whose voice is able to channel the big bang, comes to be protected by John and the couple lead to a new world away from the malign Chinamerica corporation.
The story, although short, has some impressively thought-provoking comments on technology, post-traumatic stress, humanity, fate, theology, guilt and power. Beyond this, SF films that use androids often present an analytical exploration of ‘the other’; the ‘almost human’ or ‘more than human’ characteristics that reflect, repel and challenge us. The film never really confronts these tomes in a direct way- in fact it raises very many more questions than answers- but the themes certainly drive home a degree of depth you don’t get in the average SF flick.
Godmachine does some things very well, and others quite badly. Lee’s troubled sufferance of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) opens up the possibility to present a human side to a tough special forces operative. While such narratives are grossly under-represented in typical Hollywood action films which instead glorify war, Godmachine is unremitting in its brave inclusion. Sadly however, the shortness of the film prevents this from being described or analysed in any depth and it feels like an opportunity missed. There’s a relationship between John’s PTSD and the guilt he has acquired through his military experiences (often the topic of vivid flash-backs in the film) and, in its own way, the film abstractly challenges colonialism in addition to the factors which inherently make us human.
A clever plot twist is used to raise the question of humanity. Is the android Grace actually more human than John’s commanding officer? Although the film has a clumsy way of putting this point across it is at least included and it adds depth to the films philosophical aspirations. The virus Grace has, which enables her to channel the big bang, arguably arouses queries in the astute viewer in that it quite possibly nods towards contemporary scientific research and CERN’s search for the Higgs Boson, or ‘God’ particle. I think the problem with some of this underlying philosophy is that you really have to dig for it and even then the film leaves you unconvinced that this was intentional. I believe the aim is to create a larger project and if this occurs I really hope this is explored better.
There are negative elements to the film which I found quite troubling. The reliance on violence towards women, despite the fact they are androids, is quite graphic and overbearing. If this is purporting that the divide between androids and humans is narrow, then this violence is all the more problematic. The women are almost always pictured as subservient to the men, whether in deed, ability or their status; many of the women androids are prostitutes. Although Grace proves to be a powerful character who saves John from his virus, PTSD and possibly death, this doesn’t feel enough to take away the sour taste of phallocentric brutality in the film.
When women are abused in dystopia, the question can be asked whether such treatment is the result of the ‘bad place’ (one of the reasons it is a dystopia is due to its treatment of women—note, for example, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale) or if it is merely a view of women the writer/director is personally reflecting; after all, dystopias are considered critical satires on contemporary society. Whichever resolution Godmachine aspires to, it certainly isn’t clear. It does however question the creators’ motives through the fact such abuses are never challenged; instead such treatment is normalised and considered largely inconsequential. Yet again I would hope this is made clearer in a full movie.
There are a few other lapses in the quality of Godmachine that are notable. Scenes are choppy and chronologically dispersed so it’s a little tricky to follow at times. The protagonist struggles to emote in any way aside from a perpetual mixture of fear, anger and confusion. Perhaps the worst moment of the short film is when Grace feels tears on her cheek and asks, “What’s this?” John knowingly replies, “Life.” Now, if the film had previously moved the viewer, delivered correctly such statements could add poignancy. Instead however, it comes across as an empty platitude that veers on the outright corny.
Godmachine bristles along at quite a pace and tackles a wide number of issues without exploring any at depth. It is almost like an extended trailer, or highlights package, of something that could be much more. Criticism aside, it’s a roaring concept that certainly punches hard, even if you’re unsure where the jabs are landing. It is overall an exciting concept that I sincerely hope has the chance to develop, at least to try and answer some of the huge questions it undoubtedly raises.
Watch this film at Vimeo