Movie Review: 9

9 was one of the in-flight movies I watched recently.  I thought that the trailers for it looked interesting when it was released, and I was happy to get the chance to see it.  But I was disappointed.  Some broad spoiler material ahead, so be forewarned.  

This is a visually impressive but otherwise tedious rehashing of sci-fi themes without any deeper thought or real addition to the genre. It struggles to find a cohesiveness for its hopefulness, and ends up falling flat on cliches that were the source of the original failures it seeks to divest the future of.

Post-apocalyptic world, where machines have turned on their makers and unleashed biological warfare that has terminated all life. What remains are a few animated machines, and a series of animated sack-dolls created by the same genius who created the machines that promised the future and delivered death. Apparently several generations of these creatures have been unleashed into the world, with 9 being the last. None of the first 8 remember anything about the creator though, despite the fact that he apparently was still alive when they were created. He has infused these mechanical sack-dolls with his own soul, bringing them to life for mysterious purposes.  

9 accidentally awakens the final great machine which is capable of self-replication and the exploitation of resources to do so. Essentially, this mega-machine is a metal man, fixed on personal survival for somewhat tenuous reasons. The sack-dolls find themselves attempting to undo the reanimation of this creature while trying to sort out philosophical and theological differences amongst themselves that do a credible job at replicating the fractured soul of a mad genius.  

The cry throughout the film is ‘back to the source’ – the same rallying cry as the Renaissance. By going back to the genius of antiquity we can recreate ourselves and realize our full potential in the future. The movie dutifully falls into the same cracks and chasms created by the original Renaissance, however. No authority can be tolerated save the authority of the individual. The Church is a blind slave to tradition and personal ambition masquerading as self-sacrifical piety, willing to rely on strong-arm tactics to coerce obedience. Fine – any institution is going to struggle because it has humans in it, and the Church certainly falls into this category. Technology is demonized on the macro level while being idolized at the micro level (the small light that 9 creates to illuminate his path). The problem is that mankind doesn’t know where the dividing line is between the beneficial micro technology and the self-destructive macro technology. The metaphor of light in this sense is reminiscent of Frank Miller Jr.’s fantastic post-apocalyptic literary masterpiece, “A Canticle for Leibowitz”.

The sack-dolls have to save themselves from their mechanical nemesis while somehow rebuiding the world anew based on the inherited soul of the man responsible in large part for destroying the last world. Does this seem problematic to anyone else? Isn’t this part of the failure of the Renaissance? The idea that self-reliance based on the work of earlier generations of failed empires could somehow produce a new and different ending? This is the promise of humanism – heir of much of the Renaissance and Enlightenment themes – “We can make ourselves better by doing the same things we’ve always done but doing them better. We can somehow escape the mistakes of the past even though we ourselves are products of the past.”

The movie tries to end on a hopeful theme, but I’m not sure what the hope is based upon. There is the hint of a recreation of biological life, but I’m not sure how this in and of itself is supposed to be hopeful. Nor is there any explanation how a group of sack-dolls without any reproductive capabilities of their own are going to recreate and re-establish the world. Definitely a major leap of faith.

The movie is beautiful to look at, but it offers nothing of substance underneath the graphics.

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