Review: The Machine | This is a Cyberpunk Jewel!

Two computer programmers fall in love as they create the first-ever piece of self-aware artificial intelligence, designed to help humanity. But things go terribly wrong when the British Government steals their breakthrough and teaches it to become a robotic weapon.

This is the very short synopsis of the movie and it does not really do it justice. As you can tell from the title of this post, I am absolutely delighted with The Machine.


Set in near-future Britain, during a new cold war between presumably the West or NATO on one side and China on the other, we first follow a disillusioned computer/AI specialist James who develops experimental brain-implants for veterans with serious brain injuries. The first experiment we witness ends in tragedy.
Next, we are introduced to Ava, a maverick and gifted scientist who has developed an almost perfect AI. She gets hired by James and while working together, they develop a working AI and also fall in love. We also learn that James hates his job, since his goal was to produce an implant which could cure his daughter’s Rett syndrome but now his expertise is used by the government to turn disabled veterans into killing machines.

The cold, uncaring government is epitomised in its avatar Vincent, the head of the operation James works for. Vincent is the only real villain in the movie. He is cold, manipulative, and uncaring in the extreme. Everybody but himself is expendable. We learn of this attitude towards others in a very drastic way but to tell more would be a massive spoiler.

After this incident, James dives even deeper into his work and develops the eponymous Machine, an AI android who is almost too perfect. First she, it is hard to think of her as an it, is childlike and cannot control her machine strength, but she soon learns, loves music, emphasises with James and his love and concern for his daughter and wants to help. In short, she turns out not to be the weapon Vincent wanted, which leads to another dark twist which in turn leads to the most drastic revelation the movie has to offer and which changes everything.

Apart from the action-packed and very philosophical plot, one of the questions the film raises is obviously What makes us human?, there are several well-done homages to other movies, most obviously Ghost in the Shell, transhumanism in a number of different incarnations and love. There is romantic love, fatherly love and the love between two AIs right at the end, mother and child.

The Machine is a dark and wonderful tale, and the best cyberpunk film I have seen in years.

10/10 and the badge of honour



And here are some stills and the trailer: