A man tries to create a human-like android in isolation, but something unexpected comes up. If ARCHIVES goes into exciting territory – we reveal that in our review.
OT: Archives (UK/HUN/USA 2020)
It’s the year 2038: In a remote research facility, the taciturn George Almore (Theo James) is secretly working on a lifelike, human-like android. Or more precisely: on an android. His latest prototype is almost finished and bears a resemblance to his dead wife Jules (Stacy Martin), but this makes the robotic predecessor J2 jealous. George doesn’t need that kind of stress at the moment, because not only his boss Simone (Rhona Mitra), but also the nasty Vincent Sinclair (Toby Jones) are gradually realizing that George isn’t just doing his job in his station, but rather using existing technologies as he sees fit used…
With “Archive” Gavin Rothery makes his feature film directorial debut. Rothery is known to gaming fans for his design work on Grand Theft Auto III, Fable, Battalion Wars 1 & 2 and The Lord of the Rings: The Adventures of Aragorn, while working in film as a concept artist Duncan Jones’ beautiful sci-fi drama Moon. Aesthetically, against this background, one can certainly have certain expectations of “Archives”, and this sci-fi drama lives up to them: Rothery creates a very reduced sci-fi world that shows protagonist George Almore in frosty seclusion, withdrawn into his laboratory , which is very minimalistically furnished and revives the grayish, clunky vision of the future that comes from a film era when distant (future) worlds were still formed from misused Revell model kits.
Theo James plays the taciturn George Almore.
George’s rare detour to the nearby city, on the other hand, brings back memories of the winding, rainy “film noir meets Asian futurism” aesthetic from “Blade Runner”. But even if Rothery clearly follows role models, the visuals of “Archive” are not a bold copy. Even if “Archive” lacks a completely unique, innovative spin on a visual level, the imagery of this film has its own charm and shines above all with two big plus points: There is the tangible feel of how George’s working environment is implemented. Be it the clumsy, clunky robots or the effect make-up that brings his latest experiment to life. And then there is Rothery’s distant, calm production: the director and his cameraman Laurie Rose (“Graveyard of Stuffed Animals” from 2019) allow the audience to experience the events from a medium distance, express George’s loneliness and inner emptiness through large, barren open spaces and thus create a frosty, but not distant, basic atmosphere in which “Archive” revels in long stretches of the story.
“Even if “Archive” lacks a completely original, innovative twist on a visual level, the imagery in this film has its own charm.”
Because Rothery’s production does not initially completely separate itself from George, and the scenes often linger on him or his robot friends/his newest android in moments of thoughtfulness, the narrative focus is initially directed to the aspect of empathy: although this is made clear early on at the script level When it becomes clear that George’s experiments in the snowy nowhere are illegal, he is initially guaranteed to be liked – as are his creations, which in the case of the first two gain character through minimalist but concise movements and, in the case of projects two and three, through soulful vocal performances. These pioneering achievements by George, which approach human-like thinking, acting and looking artificial intelligence, are not only threatened by understandable but no less potentially dangerous differences of opinion within the unusual quartet. In addition, the company behind his facility and its equipment is gradually finding out about George – and his own motivation is threatened by the fact that a new technology that allows him to contact his deceased wife (impressively: Stacy Martin) is soon reaching its limits of what is possible.
George’s counterpart is not human.
When a flashback establishes how George and his beloved Jules used to think about such technologies, it becomes apparent that this sci-fi film shot in Budapest and Chicago with a different story is able to tell a similar dilemma like the Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence vehicle “Passengers” – only much better: “Passengers” is about a man who doesn’t want to be alone and therefore wakes a woman from artificial sleep so that she can be with him can keep her company, even if it means ruining all of her life plans. The hubris of the man who sees the woman as an object that has to support his emotional life – a fascinating, unfortunately burning topic from a social point of view, which was treated in a thriller-like and serious manner in earlier “Passengers” script drafts. The finished project, on the other hand, is a sci-fi rom-com that is unaware of the moral implications of its story. “Archive”, on the other hand, with a more thoughtful, sonorous mood, is ideal for exploring the barbs that protagonist George not only explores something that, as established early on, should not be, but, as only explained a little later, should not be at all should be. The storytelling focus also splits over the course of the film, away from George alone, towards a narrative dichotomy between George’s emotional suffering of urgently wanting to achieve his goal and what George’s actions mean for his creations, the suffering he puts them into ignorantly falls. This fits in perfectly with the empathetic, thoughtful mood that “Archive” relies on from the start.
“Although it is made clear early on in the script that George’s experiments in the snowy nowhere are illegal, he is initially guaranteed to be sympathetic.”
Theo James’ reserved acting, which may be too stoic for some film fans, leaves room for projection and/or identification, while as the film progresses, the robot lady J2 and the android J3 become more and more emotionally clear and approachable. But instead of consistently keeping these dilemmas in view and fully exploring the underlying theme of “the man does what he thinks is necessary for his well-being, no matter what that means for his female environment,” “Archive” falls flat rapidly in the last quarter away. After a leisurely but thorough discussion, Rothery throws away all of the ethical dilemmas that George finds himself in and all of the approaches to discussion that “Archive” presents in favor of a stupid plot twist along the lines of “You probably wouldn’t have expected that!” So for an ending that doesn’t make us think about the meaning of the story anew, but rather just rearranges the content – at the expense of the film’s resonating ambition up to that point. A good twist makes your film appear in a new light, encourages you to look at the story even more intensively and makes you want to watch the film again. The ending of “Archive,” on the other hand, at least in the case of this critic, only made him want to shelve the film and leave it there to gather dust.
Conclusion: Stacy Martin plays very well, the film’s design is simple but beautiful and the basic atmosphere is appropriately icy – but a dumb, forced conclusion tears down everything that “Archive” had intellectually built up before.
“Archive” will be available on DVD, Blu-ray and digital from November 5, 2020.