(For Day 12 of NaPoWriMo, the prompt reversed yesterday’s bigness with the suggestion of writing about something small, like the tiny but powerful microchip, for example.)

Within a microchip,
Entire minds abide
In quiet ownership
Of knowledge petrified.

Its tiny, patient essence
Is preordained to serve
Till fated obsolescence
At long last strikes a nerve.

MPA rating:  TV-MA (language but otherwise could be PG-13)

Archive is one of those small but heady sci-fi movies that adventurous moviegoers happen across years later, wondering why they’ve never heard of it before. In this case, it was one of the many films whose release schedules were upturned by the COVID pandemic, causing it to be released to video-on-demand and almost immediate obscurity. Theo James stars as George Almore, a man working at a secluded robotics workshop in Japan where only he and two prototypes named J1 and J2 reside. J2 is more advanced and human-like than J1, and George is working on a new, even more human-like prototype called J3 modeled after his wife Jules, who died in a car accident but whose consciousness endures through a death-defying but temporary technology called the Archive.

While the post-death possibilities of the Archive seem like the focus based on the title, the film spends more time on the (in my opinion) more interesting theme of robot perceptions. If a piece of machinery had a human-like personality and sentience like J2 does (at the level of a teenager according to George in the film), how would they grapple with their own obsolescence and the inevitability of being replaced by a newer model? Jealousy, anger, despair? Would such emotions be “real” enough to matter? It’s a fascinating study of the potential “feelings” of robots that have reached that gray area between being objects and individuals.

Like The One I Love or Infinity Chamber, this falls in that underseen niche of twisty stories that might have ended up as a Twilight Zone episode in years past but was able to get the feature film treatment. Despite a slow pace and a scene that blatantly borrows from Ghost in the Shell, the film is buoyed by the excellent James as the tortured protagonist, a snowy and atmospheric setting, and the seamless effects that bring his android “wife” to life. While the final twist has symbolic implications that metaphor lovers can dig into, it also somewhat undercuts the purpose of everything that preceded, so I suppose its effectiveness will depend on the viewer. Still, it’s a shame Archive didn’t get more attention.

Best line: (J3) “I’ve been dreaming a lot. Last night I… Well, I don’t know if I’m dreaming or remembering. Dreams do that, don’t they?”

Rank:  List Runner-Up

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