I love a good sci-fi movie, but when I hear that it’s “low budget” then I admittedly get a little skeptical. However, 2036 Origin Unknown from writer/director/special effects master Hasraf Dulull did not disappoint. The movie is currently available to stream via Netflix (I watched in September 2019). Once I watched it, I knew I wanted to write a science fiction movie review for it.
Despite the low budget and small cast this I feel as though this film really packed a punch. It’s great for fans who love think-heavy science fiction and leaves viewers debating what really happened during the previous hour and a half.
The story follows mission controller Mackenzie “Mack” Wilson and the artificial intelligence system A.R.T.I. as they investigate a deadly crash on the surface of Mars.
Katee Sackhoff did an excellent job portraying Mack with her well-known emotive performance style. The other cast members brought the whole experience together into one heck of a head-shaker. If you haven’t seen the movie then this is where you should stop and watch it. I’m about to dig into some spoilers.
But first… the trailer:
Science Fiction Movie Review: 2036 Origin Unknown: Spoilers Ahead
For me, the movie started off a little confusing. We first see Mack looking up at the stars and thinking about her Father’s previous mission to Mars… the one that ended in disaster when all crewmembers were destroyed by a seemingly alien entity. She then gets up and runs toward a large building. It appears as though she’s gone inside, however, a moment later it seems as though she’s on a spacecraft orbiting Mars. References to communication via Hyperlink with her sister seems to support the fact she’s hanging out near the red planet so there seems to be a little gap of information on how she got from one place to the other… or so I thought.
Throughout the movie we see a bit of a battle between Mack and ARTI’s place in a human world. Mack feels that artificial intelligence should be a tool used by humans, but it seems that things have escalated quickly since ARTI’s creation.
One of my favorite things about this movie (and any well written sci-fi movie or book) is the foreshadowing that doesn’t seem like foreshadowing until you reach the end. I love when writers essentially tell you what’s happening… but it doesn’t really click until you’ve seen the whole picture.
If you’ve seen the movie then I’m sure you’ve picked up on some of it.
Last Chance to Stop Reading Before the Spoilers
If you’re still reading, then you either know how the movie ended or you’re one of those people who isn’t bothered by spoilers. If you’re the latter… please, go watch the movie first. My review won’t do it justice.
So by the end of the movie we know Mack isn’t human. What we don’t know is just how far removed she is. Could she be Mack 2.0 or some other version living out the scenario for the umpteenth time? Either way… her human self is long gone and has been replaced by ARTI’s version of her complete with memories and characteristics of the original… or so I assume. The memories may not be fully developed, and this could explain the confusion about the setting at the beginning of the movie. It may also be why ARTI tells Mack not to worry about the past but to look to the future instead.
At the end we see Mack’s human self-explaining that she’s an AI and that she must keep trying to become a better human. But is the simulation just that or did the world actually end? Is what we’ve seen in the movie a replication of events that actually happened or is the whole thing simply a test to see how far artificial intelligence has come and will go? Afterall, ARTI tells AI Mack that he’s changed his mind about human annihilation and has chosen to save her.
And what about the cubes at the end? Is each cube home to another version of Mack who met ARTI’s standards in the simulation? Or is each cube a different AI who was put through the same test? We may never know.
A Weave of Foreshadowing
As of right now, I’ve only watched the movie once. Perhaps if I go through it again, I’ll catch things I missed the first time around. Maybe the answers I seek are hidden in the cryptic yet obvious foreshadowing.
Early on in the movie Mack’s sister tells her that she’s living in ARTI’s world now and that artificial intelligence would outlive humans to travel across the universe. How much more obvious could you get with the foreshadowing? Did you catch it your first time through? I didn’t.
There are also multiple references to Turing Tests. Alan Turing, a brilliant mathematician, invented a test to gauge consciousness in Artificial Intelligence. The references first question ARTI’s sentience but by the end of the movie it’s questioning AI Mack’s sentience.
Another bit of foreshadowing occurs when Mack tells ARTI a joke with the punchline being that robots control humans. ARTI finds this amusing. Maybe it’s a little less amusing from the human side at the end of the movie.
You may also recall when Mack referred to ARTI as Schrodinger’s robot. He’s there and he’s not there… kind of like Mack at that point. She’s there as a human and an AI and we don’t really know which scenes are which.
With the amount of foreshadowing woven into the script, viewers were also thrown a few red herrings. It’s debatable if these things were part of the simulation or if they were part of human Mack’s experience and were just shown out of order to ensure the ending wasn’t too obvious. Events like Mack’s phone calls to her colleague in China and her interactions with the character Sterling. The Earth scene I mentioned earlier could also fall into this grouping, however, the others flowed much more smoothly than this one.
I enjoyed the movie. Once we got past the disconnection at the beginning with the setting, I thought it flowed quite well. There were a few things that left me wondering at the end, aside from which version Mack was and who exactly took up residence in the other cubes. Both Lena (Mack’s sister) and Jian (her colleague from China) mentioned something had gone wrong with ARTI in the past that required a complete wipe or full reboot. He also wasn’t “fully connected” and important information was partitioned in his memory.
It’s almost enough to make me wonder if humans were the ones actually behind the simulations and if ARTI was the one being tested instead of Mack. Was Mack just another program in the quest to find out what kind of decisions ARTI would make? Had ARTI’s programing been rewritten after a near catastrophic event that the humans were able to stop in time?
Afterall, there are points where Mack attempts to explain guilt to ARTI.
Kind of makes you wonder who was really pulling the strings in the end.