For a review of “Morgan,”
It wouldn’t be fair to com- pare father and son, but Ridley Scott’s progeny, Luke Scott, takes on some similar themes to his father’s work in his feature directorial debut, “Morgan.”
In a story that contemplates the emotional boundaries and consequences of artificial intelligence, Seth W. Owen’s script landed on the 2014 Black List of Best Unproduced Screenplays, and in Scott, “Morgan” finds an appropriate marriage between material, filmmaker, and yes, family legacy.
While Deckard was compelled by the state to hunt for replicants in Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner,” in “Morgan,” artificial intelligence is a privatized affair. Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), a corporate fixer/troubleshooter, is dispatched to a remote wooded lab facility to check on the status of one of her company’s assets — a young girl known as Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) to her ad-hoc family of scientist caretakers.
In this iteration of experimental artificial intelligence, the focus is on developing emotion, and in this summer camp-like bubble, the scientists have bonded with the young girl of tremendous, nearly psychic ability, who is nearly fully grown at age 5. Nature walks and birthday parties are part of the routine — until Morgan loses her temper with Kathy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and gouges her eye out. Lee’s job is to assess “it,” and decide on a course of action.
Her task is complicated by the close relationships between Morgan and the scientists — team leader Dr. Cheng (Michelle Yeoh), freespirited behaviorist Amy (Rose Leslie), an idealistic geneticist (Toby Jones), their fastidious coordinator Ted (Michael Yare) and a couple of loving doctors, Darren (Chris Sullivan) and Brenda (Vinette Robinson). Some are unwilling to terminate her, despite the increasing levels of violence when provoked. With dissent among the ranks, and murderous chaos breaking out, only Lee can take control of the situation.
“This is what I do,” she tells nutritionist Skip (Boyd Holbrook), shouldering a shotgun and taking off after a Morgan gone rogue.
“Morgan” takes its place in the canon of awesome female-driven sci-fi such as “Alien” or “T2.” Neither Lee nor Morgan are clearly heroine or villain — Lee’s only attempting to do her job and preserve the asset, while Morgan, with a clearly developed sense of selfhood, is also attempting to preserve the asset, herself. The two tangle with a thudding, efficient violence, landing blows and drawing blood with nary a flinch. It’s a rather fascinating take on the possibilities and limits of artificial intelligence and artificial emotion, and brings up questions about the rights and autonomy of these creatures similar to the ones explored recently in “Ex Machina.”
The failure of “Morgan” is in its lack of restraint. The first half of the film is as tightly controlled as the lab facility, with small moments of foreshadowing planted expertly, if obviously. The second half descends into a violent bloodbath, and the twists in the story that lie just below the surface waiting to be discovered are spoken aloud, taken from theory to fact. But it’s far more fun when just a theory. Overexplanation takes a film from an eerie think piece to a banal sci-fi thriller; it robs you of the chance to trade post-film hypotheses. That kind of ambiguity makes “Blade Runner” a classic; the lack of ambiguity means “Morgan” strays into a runof-the-mill genre territory, despite its deeper ideas.
“Morgan,” a 20th Century Fox release, is rated R for brutal violence and some language. Running time: 92 minutes.
‘The Light Between Oceans’
With “Blue Valentine” and “The Place Beyond the Pines,” filmmaker Derek Cianfrance has proved that he has a knack for both intimate romantic fables and sweeping family epics that span decades. In his adaptation of M.L. Stedman’s 2012 debut novel “The Light Between Oceans,” Cianfrance makes a film that is both epic and intimate, a love story intertwined with tragedy. In stars Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender, he finds performers who manage to deftly inhabit the characters, and just keep it from tipping over into Nicholas Sparks-style soapy melodrama.
“The Light Between Oceans” boasts fine performances and exquisite filmmaking in the cinematography, production, sound and costume design, and it’s almost enough to shake off the clingy soapy residue that comes with the romantic drama territory. It’s 1918 Australia, and Tom Sherbourne (Fassbender) a veteran of the Great War, is seeking some solitude in order to process his experience. He takes a post as a lighthouse keeper on Janus Island, and en route to his new home, catches the eye of a young local woman, Isabel (Vikander). After a picnic and some letter-writing, the two are married and start a life for two isolated on Janus.
Isabel takes to the stormy island (the crashing waves and wind are a ubiquitous presence in the film), with their simple, just-the-two-of-us rural lifestyle. But the isolation, as well as a few setbacks in starting their family lead her down a dark path of depression.
There’s a moral conundrum that arises in “The Light Between Oceans” where “saving a life” means something different from “doing the right thing.” Tom, an upstanding man, is forced to make that distinction when the couple rescue a baby girl from a stranded dinghy. Doing the right thing would mean reporting the incident and calling the authorities. Saving a life means allowing his wife to care for and keep the baby as her own. While they enjoy domestic bliss on their island, it’s an untenable situation in the tight-knit community of their small village.
Fassbender plays Tom as a man whose emotions roil below a quiet surface. He’s clearly shaken to the core and wracked with guilt over his experiences in the war, and his love with Isabel lightens his emotional burden for a time. When he shoulders her happiness along with a dose of guilt over the lies they’ve had to tell to preserve their family unit, it’s more than he can bear.
Vikander’s Isabel is the opposite of Tom, forthright, impulsive and openly emotional, collapsing into full body tantrums and meltdowns when things don’t go the way she hopes they will. She brings the passion and fire to their relationship, while he brings the stability and strength. Those opposing styles don’t always work out, as evidenced by the tangle they find themselves in when they tried to save a life or two.
“The Light Between Oceans” remains compelling throughout its two-hour plus run time, but for a melodrama that walks and talks like a weepy, it has a strangely unemotional reservedness. Perhaps it’s Fassbender’s meticulously restrained performance, or the filmmaking, which is as carefully handmade and executed as an heirloom piece. It ends up more of a study in moral and ethical decision making, than as an emotional catharsis or release, but it’s a worthy journey nonetheless.
“The Light Between Oceans,” a Dreamworks II release, is rated PG-13 for thematic material and some sexual content. Running time: 132 minutes.
Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender star in “The Light Between Oceans.”