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Joe Lehman

Extrapolating on "The Creator" [by Joe Lehman

The CreatorIf Blade Runner and The Terminator depict a dystopian future as imagined in 1982 and 1984, respectively, The Creator (2023) is a perfect projection of the present – a time when the public is passionately debating the very pressing issue of the role that Artificial Intelligence plays in basic living duties, in the stock market, and in filmmaking. For several months in 2023, the Screen Actors Guild made the A.I. the central factor in its strike in Hollywood. And right now stocks like Nvidia that specialize in A.I. are soaring. Technology is the hottest sector of the stock market.

Directed by Gareth Edwards, The Creator opens in a bleak 2055. The city of Los Angeles has been all-but-destroyed by a nuclear strike, with the blame pointed squarely at A.I. robotic beings dubbed “simulants” (a subtle reference to the replicants from Blade Runner). The simulants with some human supporters are based geographically in the Republic of New Asia. The United States military has its base of operations in the USS NOMAD (North American Orbital Mobile Aerospace Defense), which is a shuttle orbiting the atmosphere. NOMAD is waging a ‘forever war’ against the expanding technology.

What makes The Creator so compelling a story is the thesis it advances: that a war against the rise of higher technology could be a grievous lesson in futility, as technology is already interwoven in every aspect of how we as human beings are living in perpetuity. The film presents numerous examples in its images of soldiers utilizing A.I. technology as weapons against the organized simulant armies. At one point early in the story, Allison Janney, playing somewhat against type as a butch NOMAD colonel, draws a parallel from the current situation to the prehistoric conflict of Cro-Magnons versus Neanderthals. Neanderthals had their usefulness too, but we wiped them out into extinction.

Now the very presence of organized A.I. is threatening humankind’s role as dominant species. Of course, in this day and age, it is fashionable to portray the human armed forces in the West as wrongheaded and the simulant society in the East as peace-loving and desiring only tranquil coexistence. It is here that the film is weakest. The filmmakers are channeling the theme of James Cameron’s Avatar. It would have been much smarter to allow the audience to remain neutral and continue questioning the inevitability of technology’s ascendance in the face of human society’s strong Luddite sentiment. It would have been much smarter for the filmmakers not to take sides in the conflict.

Five years following a NOMAD raid that exposed Taylor’s cover and incidentally killed the pregnant Maya, Taylor is recalled to duty. His assignment is to hunt down the child simulant Alphie (Madeline Yuna Voyles). Alpha is an A.I. lifeform so advanced she / it can hack into any technology and disable it altogether. Taylor eventually “goes native,” that is, bonding with Alphie, and the two are predictably being hunted by both sides of the conflict. What chemistry exists between the human soldier and the robot child is not truly very interesting here. Rather, the theme of the murkiness of war between technology and its own consumers should have remained the film’s main focus.

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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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