Saturday 28 December 2013

Golem (2012)

Directors: Patrick McCue & Tobias Wiesner
Star: Cyrena Dunbar
This film was an official selection at the 9th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
If Quantum was torture for physicists, Golem is torture for technologists because it raises the potential that once a computer becomes more intelligent than those who built it, it will diverge from us in ways that we cannot predict. This animated short is a beautiful thing, notably organic in its visuals, but it's an overwhelming and almost inpenetrable one, especially without the necessary background, which, in the most puzzling choice of the filmmakers, Patrick McCue and Tobias Wiesner, is not provided. We're told that Golem is an adaptation of a novel by Polish philosopher and science fiction author Stanislaw Lem, but not that it's told by a computer. The book Golem XIV riffs on one of his regular themes: the inability of mankind to communicate with truly alien intelligence, the title character here being an artificial intelligence created for military purposes which becomes conscious and quickly outstrips its creators, initially lecturing but eventually ceasing communication altogether for no provided reason.

Like the book, this film is told by the Golem XIV AI in the form of one of its lectures. It's a deep talk, one which covers so much ground that it's exceedingly difficult to keep up. In the end, we surely fail to do so and the narration by Cyrena Dunbar becomes nothing but white noise to accompany the eye candy. I've lost the plot every time through, though repeated viewings do help. I also know that I'm not alone; when I talked to other audience members after its screening at the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival, they reported the same effect. Initially it's relatively simple, as Golem XIV recounts a tale about rats in a labyrinth, probability ensuring that at least one should escape it, even if not through its own talent. This quickly becomes an analogy for the human race and the process of evolution, which allows us to choose our own fate. So far, so good, but it continues to expand outward, explaining how we limit ourselves by imposing religion and culture. At some point this discussion of rationality gets too obscure.

While I'm not qualified to say whether this philosophising has meaning or not, it clearly ceases to do so to most viewers within this film's framework. Those ambitious enough can watch and rewatch to figure out if they can fathom it all; everyone else can at least enjoy the audiovisual treat, which continues on unabated. The visuals begin with what looks like slow motion footage of the sun, though it's computer generated and morphs into less recognisable and more abstract forms. Presumably the tendrils are the thoughts of human beings and the ice cages reflect how we bind them. Eventually we're led backwards into a mechanical structure, presumably Golem XIV itself. The score is an ambient electronic piece that is pleasant to the ear with its gentle pulsing beats, courtesy of composer Cliff Martinez. Dunbar's soft voice becomes another instrument, playing along with it. I applaud the filmmakers for their ambition and I'm not going to ask anyone to dumb their work down, but I can't help stating that this lost me.

Golem can be watched for free at Vimeo and YouTube.

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