There’s nothing like a good story. There are just certain TV shows and movies that simply don’t get old, no matter how many times you watch them.
But some of the best movies, those that never seem to lose their appeal, are the ones that can take us out of the present moment and transport us into another reality, like the future. They’re the movies that can show us a tomorrow filled with wonder, with possibility, and, yes, with a sort of captivating terror.
It’s no wonder that futuristic films are usually box office gold. From Star Trek’s presaging the cell phone and other tech we take for granted today to Doc’s famous warning to Marty, “Whatever you do, don’t go to 2020!” in Back to the Future, it’s amazing how much these futuristic films get right. And it’s also pretty amusing to see where they missed the mark. (We’re still waiting on our hoverboard!)
Ex Machina (2014)
Ex Machina is set in the not-so-distant future and tells the story of a tech mogul who’s managed to do what seemed to be the impossible: He’s built a humanoid capable of passing the “Turing test,” meaning that it can exhibit a level of intelligence that makes it virtually indistinguishable from humans.
The android, “Ava,” is engineered with a robotic body, with hands, feet, and face made of lab-engineered flesh. In intellect and physicality, she’s a remarkable simulation of a living human — so much so that she learns to manipulate the film’s protagonist into falling in love with her, all so she can use him to win her “freedom.”
Technology like Ava is still a long way away, of course, but it’s not entirely implausible. Scientists have recently learned to create functioning blood vessels in a lab from non-human or animal sources. And that’s not all! They’ve also recently succeeded in creating contracting human muscle tissue in the lab.
While we can’t yet transfer these vessels or muscles into human recipients, it’s not beyond imagining that such a feat could be on the horizon and that flesh-and-blood androids like Ava might someday exist.
And when it comes to artificial intelligence (AI), we’re a lot closer to creating an “Ava” than you might think. AI is pretty much a part of our daily lives, shaping everything from the way we work and learn to the way we shop.
The marketing industry, for example, has revealed the sometimes disquieting power of AI to gather our data, learn all about us, and use that knowledge to manipulate our buying choices. So, when it comes to coercing human behavior, it looks like Ava’s not the only AI that can use its knowledge to make us mere mortals do what it “wants”!
Gattaca takes audiences into the brave new world of genetic engineering, where science has learned to “manufacture” perfect human specimens. Meanwhile, the less-than-perfect among us, those of us not bioengineered in a lab, face oppression and discrimination. In Gattaca’s world, who you are, what you do, whom you can love, and even how valuable you are in society, is written entirely in your genes.
Fortunately, despite major advances in genetic sciences today, we’re not yet anywhere close to engineering the “perfect” human being. But that doesn’t mean efforts aren’t being made and that’s giving rise to some troubling questions of their own.
Stem cell therapies, for instance, have been heralded in recent years as quite possibly holding the key to preventing and treating some of humanity’s most pernicious ailments at both the cellular or the genetic levels. And yet unsanitary, unsafe, and potentially unethical conditions in some of these labs, especially independent and less well-regulated labs, make us wonder what kind of “cures” and what kind of “ideal” humans we may be creating after all.
The future is the last great mystery and it’s little wonder that it’s such prime fodder for some of the best, most captivating, and most innovative films in cinematic history. But while some fall far short of the mark when it comes to showing us a glimpse of the tomorrows to come, many are remarkably prescient. These futuristic films show us not only who we are, but where we are going.