Comfortable in its streaming liquidity, futuristic audiovisual fiction finds its best medium in serial language today. If from 2001: Space Odyssey to the Matrix, from Blade Runner to The Origin, contemporary cinema projected human evolution – scientific, metaphysical, psychological – as an artistic fact, today it is the small screen that sets the pulse in its avant-garde synthesis and popular culture.
The evidence is simply given by the English writer, screenwriter and director Alex Garland, who after delivering an extraordinary sci-fi film dedicated to cloning (Ex Machina, followed by the visually fascinating but irregular Annihilation) set out to unfold his Imaginary in the Devs series, great revelation of 2020. If the third season of Westworld and the second of Altered Carbon are added, a set emerges that imagines a panorama beyond Black Mirror, dystopian standard of the century that runs.
Separately, these narratives crumble themes and genres into disparate combinations: thriller and quantum theory, global and robotic conspiracy, black police, and immortality. Related to the aesthetics of its mentioned creator, Devs (FX Hulu) is as expansive as it is ascetic, ambitious as well as megalomaniac despite its indie proportions. Sonoya Mizuno (Lily Chan) loses her Russian boyfriend (Karl Glusman) after he gets involved with Devs, a top-secret Silicon Valley project that cooks on the haunting campus – crowned by a giant girl statue – of the Amaya company (which reminiscent of the glazed forest house of Ex Machina).
Behind is CEO Forest (Nick Offerman), a bearded man who works with a freak team in the gestation of a quantum screen capable of traveling through time. When Sonoya investigates further, he collides with the corporation’s hostile secrecy, which turns to guard Kenton (Zach Grenier).
At times schematic in his suspense intrigue (which should only be seen as a distilled excuse), Devs reaches cosmic epiphanies in some episodes – they go five out of eight, with premieres every Thursday. When the crucified form of Christ or a baby playing with soap bubbles appears on the temporary threshold that emulates a white pixel rain, or when the individual times are shot in a coordinated daily choreography, the series arouses radiant amazement.
Although the terrifying gesture evokes talents such as Ari Aster, especially for the icy, stripped down and symmetrical photography (by Rob Hardy), it is interesting to note that Garland is going through a rebirth: in past decades he wrote the novel on which La beach and the scripts of Never leave me, Sunshine and Extermination.
Muddled to the max, Westworld has turned the genetics of the world to come into audiovisual epic. Adaptation of the eponymous 1973 film, the creation of Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan – Christopher’s brother, for whom he wrote several films, and creator of Person of Interest – mixes in his two seasons and the third in progress the virtual reality of a field of thematic attraction with the political-existential dilemmas of the androids (“hosts”) that inhabit it.
Produced and broadcast by HBO (the new eight episodes premiere every Sunday), the series has progressed to bring its creatures out into the seemingly real world in which (the now destroyed) Westworld operated. Humans who reveal themselves to be robots, artificial intelligence with emotions, creations that rise up against their inventors, scenarios that are suspected to be virtual and sets that become reality make up the Westworld label, which has sparked a legitimate global cult that made the third season anticipate as one of this year’s milestones.
As in Devs, determinism and free will form the core of the new season: if in Garland’s fiction the dilemma between freedom and destiny adjusts to the problems of the time, in Westworld it extends to the libertarian potentialities of androids already a humanity increasingly limited by science. In the third episode aired this Sunday, it’s leading hostess Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) who teaches Caleb Nichols (Aaron Paul) how to break free from an algorithmic system that has previously determined his place in society to death (as if he were the machine and not her).
The Incite company and the Rehoboam system – which emulates Big Data – are crucially anticipated in the story arc, while the rest of the characters trace their way with the choral structure that characterizes the series. At times unrecognizable – switched to a corporate espionage plot to the Mission Impossible – Westworld takes the risk.
Change of skin
That does not mean that the creation of HBO travels common places of shootings, cars that fly and walls that disappear: a trait that it shares with Altered Carbon, a Neflix series that premiered its second season (in the twin format of eight episodes). A descendant of mainstream science fiction from The Avenger of the Future or The Fifth Element, adapted from Richard K. Morgan’s cyberpunk novel, Altered Carbon is a doggedly failed series that hypnotizes with its anabolic saturation of fortunes.
The invention of Laeta Kalogridis –writer of The Sinister Island and Terminator: Genesis – narrates the adventures of Takeshi Kovacs (formerly Joel Kinnaman, now Anthony Mackie), a mercenary who has changed his “cover” several times in a future in which to switch to another body – and invoking immortality – is possible for the wealthy. With the assistance of Butler Poe (the author of “The Raven,” played by Chris Conner), he must unravel a conspiracy involving his old lover Quellcrist Falconer (Renée Elise Goldsberry).
Holograms, genetic costumes, bio-trackers, soul markets, digitized memories, police mental readers huddle in Altered Carbon like the impoverished masses of Harlan who watch the televised dictations of the governor (Lela Loren) from convulsed alleys. Like its chameleonic protagonist, fiction changes its skin without denying old incarnations – past lives of cinema and literature – fables dedicated to a future that for the first time in history seem to reflect the everyday world.
* This text was originally published by La Voz. It is reproduced here with the corresponding authorization.
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