by Jay Johansen | Sep 12, 2022
The basic premise of the movie "Wifelike" is that, sometime in he near future, people have invented robots that look like real women and act like real women, so convincingly that men buy these robots and "marry" them. It's pretty clear that these robots are sex toys, but the implication is that they go beyond that to being companions. They are not just lifeless sex dolls but sophisticated artificial intelligence.
WARNING: SPOILERS. I'll try to be vague so I don't completely ruin the movie for you. But, spoilers.
The movie interweaves two basic plot lines. One, the robots are self-aware and intelligent and rebel against their slavery. And two, a man murders a woman that he has a crush on and has a robot duplicate made of her, which he then "marries".
The "robots rebel" plot line is surely familiar to anyone who has seen any robot movies. It's a well-worn idea going back at least to "Rossum's Universal Robots", written in 1920. And that's the problem. It's an idea that has been beaten to death. Of course authors can and do recycle used plot lines to make an entertaining story. But you have to give it a new twist, or at least do it well. And this movie simply doesn't. It's the same, tired old idea, dragged out and flogged into performing once again.
I'll give them this, they did have one mildly original idea. The humans respond to rebellious robots by clearing their memories and resetting them. Your basic, turn it off and turn it back on again. Plausible enough. Presumably these robots are expensive, you don't want to destroy one if you don't have to. But the robots figure out a way to save their memories through this process. The explanation was a little goofy and magical, but okay.
The murder plotline is more original. But it seems to have some gaping plot holes. Okay, I accept that it's possible to make a robot that looks just like a real person. And indeed, that would probably be easy. People have been making realistic paintings and statues for thousands of years. The idea that someone could build a robot that looks just like some real person isn't far-fetched at all. And I could certainly believe that a man could become obsessed with a woman who isn't interested in him, to the point where, if he can't have the real thing, he would want a robot duplicate. Fine.
But ... why does he have to murder the real woman? Surely the robot manufacturers don't need a dead body to make a robot from. They could work from pictures. Is there some law against making a robot copy of a living person? Some technical reason? They never give a reason in the movie. I think that if such robots were invented, there would likely be a big demand for robots made to look like famous actresses. And while some might be distinctly uncomfortable with the idea of strange men that she's never even met having sexual relations with a duplicate of her, I'm sure there would be plenty who would gladly agree to it for the money. Probably some who would like the idea. After all, there are plenty of actresses who are willing to pose nude in movies, either for money or because they are turned on by the idea of millions of men desiring them. It would seem a short step to agreeing to have robot duplicates made.
But in the movie, they just say that he murdered her so that he could have a robot copy made, period end of sentence.
By the way, I was half-expecting this movie to be filled with social commentary where these robots are a metaphor for real women and how marriage is sex slavery and all men are rapists and so on. But I didn't see any social commentary in the movie. Which was rather refreshing: a movie that just sought to be an entertaining story and not a lecture on liberal ideology.
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