“Do you consider yourself a person?” “No, I am something new.”
What does it mean to be human? Is it having the capacity to empathize with others? Does it entail understanding that actions have consequences? Is it being able to laugh, to cry? Or, even deeper, does it require that one have a soul? Those are some of the questions posed in the new sci-fi horror film, Morgan.
Taking place at a secret facility in upstate New York, the movie wastes no time in getting things rolling, as it begins with a vicious attack by Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) on one of the researchers working there. Morgan is the result of an experiment in creating a laboratory “born” ‘hybrid biological organism’. For what reasons, we’ll find out later, but after a couple of failed attempts, the scientists have finally succeeded and the result is a young woman, though, in actuality, she is only 5 years old. ‘She’ is a subjective term, as Morgan is often referred to as ‘it,’ even though she appears to possess all the functions and abilities of a normal human….and then some. After that horrific act of aggression that starts the film, Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) from Corporate is brought in to assess the situation and determine what should be done about it. Though her official title is a risk management consultant, the recipient of that earlier attack (Jennifer Jason Leigh) more correctly refers to Lee as an assassin. As information is gathered and Morgan’s thoughts and ideas are analyzed, it becomes apparent that not everyone is on the same page when it comes to her fate, while Morgan’s abilities are making her more and more dangerous.
Morgan isn’t the first film to explore what it means to be alive or to be human. Going back to Frankenstein through Blade Runner and more recently, Ex Machina, movies have explored what constitutes life and consciousness. Other films, like Species and Splice have also examined accelerated growth in not entirely human specimens. These are fascinating subjects, and with continued advances in genetics and robotics, these ideas are becoming increasingly more relevant in today’s world. Morgan, though unpredictably threatening, is but an innocent, only 5 years old, created in a lab, removed from others of her kind, and as one of the researchers points out, is still learning and has the right to make mistakes. (As opposed to 70 year olds with no intellectual curiosity, who don’t learn anything, but act like a petulant 5-year old when they lash out with angry tweets at the slightest provocation – sorry, couldn’t help it.) Morgan is clearly an inquisitive, thoughtful, intelligent creature, but after losing her ‘outside’ privileges, her intellectual and spiritual growth is hampered by her lack of stimulation, other than her music, games and what little contact she has with those who work at the facility. What 5-year old wouldn’t lash out under such circumstances.
“I’m feeling not quite myself.”
Anya Taylor-Joy (excellent in the unsettling The Witch, seen earlier this year) once again displays her considerable talents as someone struggling to find her place in this world. Though we see from the outset what harm she can inflict on others, she instantly becomes sympathetic once we actually see her up close and hear the remorse and concern in her voice, and see the sadness in her eyes. When she is told of a beautiful lake where you can hear the whisper of the wind through the trees, you feel the yearning within her ‘soul.’ Anya gives off an otherworldly appearance with her big, expressive eyes set wide apart. She isn’t a monster by any means, though she is capable of monstrous acts. Anya is able to convey vulnerability and violent instability, and go from one to the other in an instant or gradually. It’s an impressive performance from beginning to end.
Kate Mara, though not getting to show the range of emotions that Anya does, is great as the corporate rep whose cold, emotionless exterior make her perfect for the task she was sent to complete. The rest of the cast includes veteran actors, Toby Jones (Hitchcock), Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight) and Paul Giamatti (John Dies at the End), along with Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones’ Ygritte), Boyd Holbrook (Gone Girl) and Michael Yare. They all get their moments, with Jones especially good as the compassionate scientist who’s put everything into his work, and Leslie as Morgan’s ‘best friend’.
Morgan marks the directorial debut of Luke Scott. You may be aware of his dad, director Ridley, and some of his work, like Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, Prometheus and the upcoming Alien: Covenant. Luke did 2nd unit directing on his father’s Exodus: Gods and Kings and last year’s The Martian. He’s clearly learned from his dad, as he keeps the plot moving with a series of revelations and twists from a script by Seth Owen. A particularly standout sequence is the scene where Paul Giamatti’s psychologist interviews Morgan, a sort of Turing test, in order to render a decision on her future. While the doctor’s questions are clearly designed to antagonize Morgan, perhaps a bit too much, Scott builds an almost unbearable tension as you wait for her to erupt, all while feeling compassion for her and her predicament. The action sequences are also done with style, especially the fight scenes between Mara and Taylor-Joy. Though Ridley is showing no signs of slowing down, even at the age of 78, we hope his son continues to follow in his dad’s footsteps with thought-provoking science fiction and horror.
What is life? What makes us human? Who am I? What’s my place in this world? Those are questions that will continue to be asked as mankind continues its journey into the future, with advances in technology and science that blur the lines between what is and what isn’t. As we leave you to ponder the meaning of life, check out two of the world’s most advanced robots, magicLab’s EDI (Electronic Deceptive Intelligence) and the University of Pisa’s FACE (Facial Automation for Conveying Emotions) as they watched and reacted to the trailer for Morgan:
— review by Brian de Castro