Thursday, August 10, 2017

Make Me A Robot—Amelia 2.0 is Compelling Movie

Art used on movie poster, from Facebook page for the movie.

“Make me a robot, take, take my soul.” Tessa Violet.

I had hoped to go to the premiere of the movie “Amelia 2.0” at Collins Road Theater, but did not make it. But I did see the film Aug. 10, when my wife and I attended the 4:50 p.m. show.

At the showing, there was a fairly small audience, and that seems a bit of a shame. “Amelia 2.0” is a well done, compelling movie the raises life and death questions. From a play produced in Cedar Rapids called “The Summerland Project,” “Amelia 2.0” tells the story of Amelia Summerland, a woman who dies of a brain aneurysm. But as she slips away in a coma, a high tech corporation, with HQ in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, makes Amelia’s husband an offer.

Sign a nondisclosure form and medical release, and we’ll scan your wife’s brain into a robot.

That’s the vehicle for the movie to explore basic questions. What does it mean to be human? If thoughts of a human brain could be mechanically reproduced, would the machine have a soul? If you could preserve the consciousness of a loved one in a robot, would you?

The answers are neither simple nor straightforward, and different characters in the movie are allowed to react in different ways. For example, there is a conservative senator from Iowa who leads a crusade against the project—but he’s not an evil character at all. He has decent motivations, and his own mortality is an important plot point. One of the scientists working on the project basically falls in love with Amelia, even though he helped create her as a robot. Her husband ends up not being to accept that she’s human, while one of her creators develops feelings for her as if she were.

And maybe she is. The movie steers away from presenting a final answer. It’s the same question posed by Robert Heinlein in what I think of as his best book, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.” If a machine can think and feel emotions, is there a point where it’s no longer a machine?

Given the nature of the “Amelia 2.0” story, it seemed inevitable to me that the project would go wrong. Frankenstein didn’t exactly have a happy ending. This movie is a tragedy in a classic Shakespearean sense.

Anyway, if you haven’t seen it, I urge you to do so. And I hope the popularity of the movie will spread. I hope future showings at Collins Road will be packed. You’ll see some familiar faces—the movie stars some actors that have been in major films—and it’s nice that local actor Angela Billman moved from the play “The Sutherland Project” to play Amelia is “Amelia 2.0.” The Gazette reviewer enjoyed this film, too.

It was also fun to Cedar Rapids on the big screen. There was a movie of that title (“Cedar Rapids”) several years ago that was cringe worthy, and seeing the city in a movie of more depth was nice. The cameo by Mercy Medical Center and the Cedar Rapids Public Library as key locations was fun to watch. And I did like the embedded plug for TCR.

But I would have liked the movie, I think, if it had been filmed in Madison, Wisconsin, or Austin, Texas. As a narrative, it holds together well and provokes many reactions. Don’t go thinking that you’ll see a light comedy. Do go, expecting to see a compelling story.

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