While reviews for Zoe 2018 are mixed (some are even poor!) I believe this is a film that has been sadly underestimated. Its ratings have been skewed by a small number of cranks on ‘Rotten Tomatoes’ who must have been expecting Terminator, instead of the beautifully nuanced, impossible love story presented in ‘Zoe.’ Most of these online complaints focus on whether singer Christina Aguilera deserved her turn as an actress. To be generous, this is a pretty dumb reason to condemn a movie. Especially one that deals so affectively with profound questions of what constitutes actual consciousness? As well as the love, loss, and inevitable pain of this human experience.
It is no coincidence that Ridley Scott is a producer on this movie, because it is cut from the same rich fabric as Blade Runner (both the original and 2049) and explores many of the same themes and moral complexities evident in Westworld’s superb first season.
Much like the unwitting heroines of both of those stories, Zoe begins her existence without the slightest idea that she is a sophisticated lab experiment, built to gratify the needs of men who have no idea she might evolve needs of her own. It is the awakening of consciousness that is the centerpiece of all these stories. Like Rachel, like Doris, like all the innocent dupes of men bent on profit, these beings are like children coming to understand the cynicism of the world that built them, at a frighteningly accelerated pace.
Whether it is Zoe, or Ash, or any of these other synthetics, the ever-present jeopardy is their childlike vulnerability. Which is made even worse by the terrifying recognition that everything they know, everything they are – is a lie. An implant.
If audiences are engaged by high emotion and real stakes, this film delivers, big time. Imagine recognizing that all of your deepest, most intimate secrets are actually known to the room full of geeks and coders who made them. What could be more naked and vulnerable than that? It’s a recognition akin to the cruelest form of betrayal. It is a recognition felt again and again in Zoe – an absolute tour de force of emotional jeopardy.
I found myself completely swept up in this broken romance, especially Léa Sedoux’s winsome, sad performance. She is both lonely and isolated for reasons she can’t possibly understand, but which soon become apparent: she’s been online for only two months, but inhabits all the longings of the five young women who contributed to her memories and construct. She is by far the more engaging character, and it was a surprising, but brilliant choice by the writer to place her biggest recognition in the first act of the story.
Who are we when everything we know is a lie? In contrast to Westworld’s synthetics, Zoe must wrestle with this huge question almost from the beginning. It allows the filmmakers a lot of runway to explore the big questions: are we human because of the body we inhabit? Or are we human because of the consciousness we share with others?
Are the pleasures of love and connection worth the pain they inevitably bring? Can the pain be cheated by really good pharmacology? Or is there a higher price to be paid for short-circuiting God’s intended balance?
Is this a perfect film? No. But I love the fact that its filmmakers dared to wrestle with some of these profound questions of being. And did so in a way that was deeply felt and never got lost in intellectualism (as lesser sci-fi sometimes does). Every lesson of this young woman’s ‘becoming’ was deeply earned. She paid for it all, a dozen times over. And we, its lucky viewers, reap the benefits.
Beginning in September, I will be teaching a brand new class for UCLA Extension: Television Series Development Workshop (FILM TV X-423).
We’re going to learn how to create an industry-ready tv pitch in just 10 weeks. Here’s a quick look at the course (2 min):
We will be learning to create the same caliber of professional presentation that I use (and hundreds of other WGA writers and producers use) to sell our shows to networks, every season.
This course will take you from raw idea, through world-building, the creation of complex characters, backstories, and ongoing conflicts – to the kinds of visual elements and high quality presentations that buyers want to see.
And we’ll do it all as a workshop, with help at every stage, and no soldier left behind.
I cannot think of a more valuable skill in media than learning how to package and present your vision to the people who can make it happen.
It addition to myself, we will have two major players as guest speakers to help guide us on our path: Lee Aronsohn, creator of ‘Two and Half Men’; and Bad Robot’s Senior VP of Television, Matt King.
This class will rock. This class WILL sell out. Do not pussy-foot around or this ship will sail without you. Registration is open now. Click here to join us.
See you in September!