Whistling In The Dark Or Why I’m Not Worried About AI

Ex_Machina_film_posterI watched Ex Machina and Big Hero 6 almost exactly a week apart.  I’m a science fiction fan and so not surprisingly, robots have always fascinated me.  There is no doubt in my mind that when I was studying computer science in university and learned of the Turing test, I immediately saw it as a real-world precursor to Isaac Asimov’s 3 laws of robotics.  So I’m pretty much a sucker for science fiction films that have robots.  Of course, part and parcel of this is that I, too, wonder about sentient robots and what it would mean for humanity

Cinematically and story-wise, these 2 films are worlds apart.  What they do have in common is that both are tales of early interactions between humans and robots.  Stories about robots that exhibit sentience and there the similarities between these 2 tales end.  Or do they?

Both films have a common thread.  This thread is  the notion that robots, imbued with pure logic, can perceive the world better than us.  That somehow, having had the parameters of existence encoded as a series of 0’s and 1’s and unencumbered by messy analog brains, they understand reality more clearly than we do.  Armed with this pure understanding, they either go on to be our saviors or our destroyers.

Big_Hero_6_(film)_posterAnd so in Big Hero 6, we see a robot built by one of the characters as a university project, a robotic nurse, quickly learn that helping people requires not just the physical acts of care, but empathy and morality.  Because one of the things that we as human beings learn growing up is that no matter how empathetic we are, no matter how well attuned we are to the suffering in the world around us, we cannot solve the world’s problems on our own.  Thus, we must make moral and ethical decisions in which, recognizing our limitations, we accept this truth that we cannot help everybody.  It is a credit to Big Hero 6, that we are willing to suspend our disbelief and accept that the robot, Baymax, is able to make this cognitive leap.

In Ex Machina, a much darker thread pulls the story along.  Here we see a robot that, while ostensibly being tested for its ability to pass the Turing test, develops its own agenda triggered by the arrival of a stranger, Caleb, in its life.  That this ends tragically for the humans comes as no surprise.  Again, the story compellingly shows us Ava, the main robot, also cross this cognitive bridge.  Ava develops a moral and ethical code from its interactions with Caleb, a code that allows it to perceive the slavery and servitude of its situation.

[As an aside, after I saw Ex Machina, I wondered if the movie had instead been a horror film in the vein of Saw or Hostel whether the audience would have been, in fact, cheering for Ava’s victory over its captor.  Certainly, Ex Machina has the trappings of one of those films, albeit with less gore.]

The recent furor around the development of true AI and what it means to the human race has gained considerable traction in the media.  Indeed, we have luminaries like Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates arguing that AI represents the greatest existential threat in human history.  So surely we should be worried, right?

I think that the answer is a qualified yes.  Qualified because yes, if we sat on our hands and somehow developed these AI imbued robots, complete with a sense of self, a desire to survive (which of course begs the question of a desire to reproduce), morals, and ethics without anything else changing, then yes we would be engineering our downfall.  But, I don’t think that’s how this will play out and here is why.

To develop robots that have the capabilities we witness in films like Ex Machina and Big Hero 6 will require us to solve some pretty hard engineering problems along the way.  Not impossible, just hard.  One of the consequences of solving those problems is that these technologies will almost certainly be adapted for our own use long before we develop fully sentient machines.

My explanation for this is simple.  Opportunity and narcissism.  Because if money is not an object and we can enhance our own capabilities by adding advanced cybernetics to it, there will be plenty of people who will do exactly that.  Robots on the other hand, will be relegated to roles that people cannot or will not perform.  Again, because of our narcissistic streak, it is almost a certainty that we will keep the best technology for ourselves and thus once robots become the advanced, world-beating entities that we see in the movies, we will almost certainly be waiting for them.  And while it is possible that robots could adopt our ruthlessness in their mission to survive, they’ll almost certainly be playing catch-up.  At least in the beginning.  Even if we built super-soldier robots a la the Terminator, that does not require that we give them enough intelligence to create other instances of themselves. Even if we were to create robots that could rescue people from burning buildings, we would likely implant a heuristic that allows them to “decide” which person to save.  Firefighters may be using morals but arguably firefighting robots do not need sentience, they just need a well-defined set of rules that allow them to optimally save people.  That some people would still die would not be any worse than what we have today.

This scenario would play out in situation after situation.  Yes, true sentience would allow a robot to solve problems in the same way that humans do, but the fact is that we just don’t need robots that capable.  And even if we were to develop robots that could act as companions, i.e. partners and lovers, it’s not clear that we would need true sentience to satisfy that requirement.  After all, if robot were able to pass the Turing test, having a relationship with them would be no different than with a human being.  I could be going out on a branch here, but if people want to have relationships with robots, surely they want them to be identifiable at some level as a relationship with a robot and not a human.  Otherwise, what’s the point?  In other words, that “hot” female robot that you just built, if it’s truly sentient, it could just as easily decide that it wants to be partners with some other, presumably more attractive human.

Of course, there is another way to look at this and that is the fact that the biggest existential risk to human existence is not robots, it’s death.  We will all die one day.  That is a certainty.  Moreover, it is almost a certainty that even if humans managed to survive into some unimaginable future, hundreds of millions or even billions of years from now, we will eventually perish from this universe.

If along the way, we manage to build robots that not only have our morals and ethics but our will to survive and they, having been built in our image, carry the flag of humanity into the future, I salute them and wish them luck.


Ex Machina film poster” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

Big Hero 6 (film) poster” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

American Sniper: Shooting The Messenger

american-sniper

I saw American Sniper here in London – that’s where I currently live.  And to read the reaction to it on the web, far away from my American homeland, I feel like I saw a different film.

Did the audiences in the US cheer when Chris Kyle shot the Iraqi men, women, and children?  Did they stand to attention during the end when we see clips of people honoring him, waving the American flag?  Did they look at each other and murmur a nod of assent when his father tells him that you’re either a sheep or a wolf?

Because if they did, then I can understand the outpouring of criticism and concern amongst many people.  But the issue is not the film, it’s ourselves.

Of course, I can’t read minds.  So I have no idea what exactly people in the audience here thought.  However, we can all read body language and we can’t help but be aware of the other people around us during a film.   After the credits rolled, people got up and I could see them speaking quietly amongst themselves, I could catch words here and there about what we had just watched.  I’ve watched lots of films, mostly American, here in London and if people are pumped up (think Avengers), they show it.  That wasn’t what happened.

I wasn’t overly caught up in whether it was historically accurate.  Portrayals of war are notoriously bad in this regard in any case.  Instead, I saw the story of a young man, who was effectively groomed to become a soldier and he went on to be very good at his job.  We see many signs of it: from a young age he’s taken hunting by his father, there’s the aforementioned wolf or sheep life lesson, he watches in horror at the bombing of the US embassy in Kenya, with a final culmination in the attack on the World Trade Center.  What some people who live in the liberal enclaves of New York, Los Angeles, may not be comfortable with is that for many Americans living in small towns scattered across the country,  supporting your country, right or wrong is a way of life.  It’s black and white, it gives them meaning, and those people are just as American as any sophisticated, university-educated urban dweller.

That he goes on to do what he was trained to do did not surprise me.  I know that people have raised the question of the ethics of snipers and I’ve even seen the film compared to the Nazi propaganda piece in Inglorious Basterds.  But that’s what people do in war.  They kill each other.  They kill each other in horrific ways.  They kill each other every single day and it doesn’t stop until either you as a participant are killed yourself or, if you’re lucky, the war ends and you’re sent home.  There’s nothing glorious about that.  There was nothing glorious about the American invasion of Iraq.  We all know that, whatever light you cast Chris Kyle’s actions in Iraq, his killing of countless Iraqi participants, that he was just a pawn implementing a faulty foreign policy.

A faulty foreign policy.  Yes, and over a 100,000 people died, mostly Iraqi.  There’s nothing glorious about that.

Of course, the war in Iraq was a polarizing event for America and support for the war, not surprisingly, has been divided along political lines.  Political lines that are vicious and unforgiving.  People are now calling for members of the Bush administration to be charged as war criminals.  There may well be merit to those charges.  But, we then enter into an uncomfortable culpability chain.  Do we then charge every participant in that war as a criminal?  If so, how do we assign accountability?  Chris Kyle indeed killed many people.  But, what about the artillery corpsmen or the drone operators who killed many, many more?  What about the Veteran’s Administration hospital officials who let American soldiers languish in horrific conditions just outside of our nation’s capital during the war?  Should we charge them as war criminals, too?

My point is people bring their values into a film.  Of course I am no different.  But what I saw on that screen was not glorious.  It was a tragedy and it’s not over.

Birdman: A Tale Of Not Aging Gracefully

Birdman

SPOILER ALERT: Actors are vain, insecure, and petty.

Oh wait, you knew that.  So.  Birdman is Alejandro González Iñárritu’s latest critically acclaimed film (you may know him for Babel or Biutiful).  Birdman tells us the tale of an aging actor’s swan song (no pun intended) in which he writes, directs, and stars in a theatrical adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.  In the course of the story, which is certainly the black comedy that it promises, we learn that while actors suffer from all of above listed weaknesses, this makes them pretty human after all.

The aging actor in question, Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a Hollywood superstar who earlier in his career played a flying superhero (hmmm) has decided that to make himself relevant again, he needs to demonstrate that he can be a successful Broadway stage actor.  That his hubris sets him on a collision course with a NY Times theater critic bent on destroying the show is just one of a long list of things that he doesn’t foresee.  In fact, through his daughter, Sam Thomson (Emma Stone) we learn that not only does he not have a Facebook nor a Twitter account, he doesn’t understand the relevance of social networks to the world we live in.  In fact, we are led to wonder just how much of the world he understands at all.

Riggan Thomson is a man who lives solidly in his past glory.  In fact, he lives there so solidly that we are given regular demonstrations of his Birdman powers.  Birdman, the character, is both the source of his strength and his ultimate downfall.  And it is this that makes Riggan Thomson a tragic hero.  Because we know from the outset that the events of this story are carved in stone as clearly as any Greek tragedy.

His tragedy is amplified by the fact that despite his continued vainglorious behavior, his family and friends want nothing but for him to succeed.  Even his would-be competitor, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), clearly can’t help but want his success, even if his motives are as self-serving as the rest of the cast’s.

Which brings me to the central theme of this essay and the film itself.  The A-list of yesteryear, by which I mean the 1980s and 1990s, is staging a revolt of sorts.  If there was ever a group of people who took the adage “60 is the new 30”  more to heart than this cadre, I’d be hard-pressed to name it.  Not only do these people have the desire to put one more notch in the bedpost of fame, they have the means to achieve it and therein lies the “inside joke” of Birdman that we’re all party to.  Riggan Thomson’s ability to stage a Broadway play from his own finances is breaking the fourth wall within a fourth wall if you get my meaning.  In other words, while central to Birdman is the play-within-a-play construct, in fact, the film itself is a meta-construct in which this higher order 4th wall is broken regularly as part of the comic underpinnings of the story.

In fact, this is a thread that has become standard Hollywood fare.  Whether it’s Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa (in the eponymously named film) lashing out at the boxing committee to “let him do what he has to do” or the recurring presentation of Dylan Thomas’ Do not go gentle into that night in the recent box-office mega-hit, Interstellar, we are witnessing a palace revolt against the received wisdom that the all-powerful 18-34 demographic rules the world.

Or are we?

Hollywood’s aging A-list, wealthy, powerful, and in equal turns ridiculous are not all that different than the rest of us after all. The audience they play to is disproportionately more powerful and wealthier than their offspring.  Talk about “do not go gentle into that night”.  That pretty much sums up the populations of North America, North Europe, and Japan (an economist that I know tells me that Japan is always the exception to every rule), especially the urban professional population.  So, it should come as no surprise that our top-rated films mirror this population.

I have to confess that I wince a bit every time I watch a film in these days that prominently features a hit song from the 1980s or 1990s.  But, at the same time I can’t help but feel a sense of solidarity because this is the marker that tells me that the makers of that film grew up in the same milieu, that they fell in love, had families, and carved out a life for themselves along a parallel arc to my own life.  And that these films, like it or not, are a mirror for our generation.

Light My Fire

jim_morrison_pamela_cours

Jim Morrison & Pamela Cours

 

This morning, while puttering around my flat I was listening to Planet Rock, the only station I’ve just about ever listened to on my DAB radio.  For the uninitiated, it’s a “classic rock” station in the purest sense of the word – just about every major rock band you’ve ever heard of, especially if they were in the zenith of their success in the ’70s, ’80s, or ’90s can be heard here. While arguably a bit repetitive, it works well as a kind of comforting background.  And to their eternal credit, they occasionally play some of the British Invasion ’70s/’80s songs (read Sex Pistols, The Stranglers) that I have very fond memories of.

Enough of the back story.

This morning Planet Rock was playing “Light My Fire” by The Doors (you did know that, right?) and it occurred to me that this is probably the first rock song that I can remember.  I mean, my parents had Beatles albums, but I never considered that to be rock, even as a wet-behind-the-ears 9-year old.  More importantly, even at that tender age, I understood enough of male/female relations to realize that there was something qualitatively different about Jim Morrison’s going on and on about “set the night on fire”, calling the object of his desire, “baby”, and perhaps most importantly the interplay of desire and death in the song.

This was and is a song about being consumed by love and passion for another person, even if it meant dying for them.  And it pulled me in just as it does now, even if it immediately takes me back to the distant (yes, distant) years of my childhood.

The association I have with hearing the song for the first time is perhaps amusing in retrospect.  At the time, I was living in a small town in Arkansas (!) and not long before that a family of Seventh Day Adventists had moved in next door.  They had 8 children and one of the boys was close to me in age, so we became de facto friends, even if the family’s religious views occasionally intruded in odd ways on our play.  One of the older brothers, maybe 14 or 15 at the time, had a small portable cassette player and this is where I first heard the song. But, I realize now that they used to bring the cassette player over to my house to listen to it, presumably because their parents would have never tolerated listening to rock music a.k.a “The Devil’s Music” in their house.  After all, this is a family that declared “American Pie” was unacceptable to listen to on the grounds that it makes a somewhat irreverent reference to Christ.

“Light My Fire” ended up having a big impact on my musical tastes.  There is no doubt that Ray Manzarek’s hypnotic keyboard playing drove my desire to play keyboards in a band during high school and my becoming a big fan of The Stranglers just a few years later.

And, there is no doubt that Jim Morrison introduced me to the notion of the hipster rock star who could sing about love, passion, and death all in the same breath.

The Wolverine (2013)

Today, I went to see the latest Marvel film, The Wolverine, and generally enjoyed it.  I was not familiar with Wolverine’s backstory of being a POW in Nagasaki during WWII as clearly shown in the trailers and so was curious to see where it would lead in modern-day Japan.

The best parts of the movie are when we get to see Wolverine’s more vulnerable side rather than just his snarling, tough-guy approach that characterized much of what we saw in X-Men: The Last Stand.  And given this vulnerable side, it’s not surprising that his feelings towards Jean Grey figure prominently.  Nevertheless, we also learn what spending several years (apparently alone) in the wilderness understandably provokes in him when presented with a beautiful, young woman.  While he may have feelings of guilt about how his relationship with Jean ended, clearly those feelings do not extend to all situations.

Not to worry, though, as there is a plenty of action to go around.  Again, as inferred in the trailer, Wolverine loses his powers and while he is still a formidable fighter, he ceases to enjoy the absolute invulnerability his X-men power gives him.  Of course, we’re left to wonder how and when (and perhaps if) he will how regain his powers.  Interestingly enough, while there is plenty of sword & claw play, there’s relatively little blood.  No doubt this is what earned it a 12A in the UK and a PG-13 in the US.  Had the violence been more realistic, it would’ve easily earned an 15/R.

Like most comics, the story is mostly a morality tale about the consequences of near immortality and what happens to those would acquire it by any means necessary.

The backdrop of Japan was interesting and occasionally, although I suspect unintentionally, humorous.  I was quite glad that all the characters spoke in Japanese so simple that even I, not having used mine in years, was able to follow along without problem.  I suspect native speakers will cringe.  I think perhaps the funniest scene (no big spoiler here) is when Wolverine and Mariko get off a bus near the sea and Wolverine asks her where they are.  Just prior to this, we clearly see that the sign on the front of the bus says 長崎 (Nagasaki) and so I couldn’t help but mutter to myself, “Nagasaki, you idiot!”  Nevertheless, I accept that we’re to understand his bewilderment at being back in this complex society.

From a presentation standpoint, we’re never in doubt that this is a comic book that we’re watching, although I did enjoy the references (brief albeit they were) to such famous films as Seven Samurai.  In fact, if I had any real complaints, it was that the story felt rushed.  Quite a lot happens and even at 126 minutes, there were definitely times when I would have enjoyed a slower pace.

Final analysis?  We get to see Wolverine as more of a person than has been the case in the X-Men.  Go and see it!

PS. I watched it in 2D.  I did not feel that I missed anything by not seeing it in 3D.

India: Day 1

Landed in Bombay Mumbai Airport midday. 

“We’re not in Kansas, anymore.”  Very humid, dimly lit. Customs very perfunctory, clearly I am in the least threatening category.  I realized it was pouring rain when I pick up my trunk from the carousel and notice that the outside is soaking wet.  Hope it’s only the outside.

As I make my way to where I’m to meet my driver, I see soldiers with assault rifles.  The real threat is outside of the airport, I think.

Spot my driver right away and he brings his car around.  We crawl through the Mumbai traffic in the pouring rain; it reminds me of the opening scene of Rashomon.  I sometimes think that i need a new image, but it continues to serve me well.  I am struck by people in the street’s disregard for the rain, but I assume they either are used to it, have no choice, or some of both.

I sleep for most of the drive to Pune, about 4 hours.  Which is a godsend because during the moments I am awake, I consider how much greater my chances are of dying on this motorway than on an airplane or a terrorist attack at the precise moment I am walking through the airport.

We arrive at my hotel, a gated compound in downtown Pune, the JW Marriott.  Inside, it looks much like any upscale, tropically situated hotel. After checking in and being taken to my room, I am struck by how young the staff are and it’s not just the staff. If there old people, they are not nearly in evidence that they are when I travel in Europe, the US, or Japan. Of course, the foreigners are easy to spot: mostly middle-aged men like myself and clearly here on business.

I rest in my room for a bit and then realize that 1) I am quite hungry and 2) I look quite miserable. The latter I solve in a huge, granite, and stainless steel affair. While I am showering, it occurs to me that this is the first time since I’ve come back to finance that I’m travelling for business. It also occurs to me that this is really quite nice. When I did a stint at a HW company, the travel arrangements were not nearly so luxe…

[Spoiler] Still too early to go and eat, so I amuse myself by watching The Vow, a moderately soppy affair about a woman who loses her memory in an accident, forgets her husband, and then falls in love with him all over again. The English subtitles are quite distracting and I try to ignore them. In between, the commercials are full of products to whiten the skin; it’s quite odd because amongst Westerners, when the conversation has turned to the (admittedly shallow) topic of attractive Indian women, I’ve never heard anybody lament, “If only they were whiter…”, so I don’t know quite what to make of it.

Finally, I make my way downstairs to dinner and being quite ravenous by this time (could only manage coffee for breakfast), I order more with my eyes than my stomach. After an odd interaction regarding my martini (surely this is an old standby, I think) which involves discussions of ice and other non-traditional variations, I am rewarded for my persistence with a dry martini and three olives. Thank god for globalization.

The food arrives and they bring me samosa that is like some weird coupling of a grilled sandwich and potatoes. With a side of fries (!) It’s tasty but the portion is huge. This is an appetizer? The gargantuan proportions continue with my main; the nasi goreng is enormous. Also tasty, I convince myself that since it’s mostly rice, it won’t be so filling. I can’t remember the last time I ate this much food…probably not since I was in an…American resort! The connection is clear. After a coffee (which was actually quite good), I managed to get myself back to my room in one piece.

Thus ends my first day in India – a strange co-mingling of the familiar and not so.

Fast and Furious 6

I’ve enjoyed the Fast and Furious franchise.  For me, there’s quite a bit to like: fast cars, a simple over-arching morality tale, strong, mostly silent men, pretty girls, and prettier women.  With a feature set like that, it makes you wonder how anybody worth their salt could screw it up.

Until now, that is.

During one particularly slow scene (and there are many), my movie-going partner leaned over and whispered to me, “Slow and tedious”.  And so it was.  I can understand why in Fast Five, they expanded the genre to include a heist.  It broadened the appeal of the franchise while at the same time stayed close to the franchise’s roots.  But, for reasons that didn’t make any sense to me, they decided to go all geo-political on us.

Yes, there are wanna-be terrorists whose operus mondi is using super-fast cars.  Who knew?  But, it gets better, because just to mix things up, Letty Ortiz has been given one of those amnesia conditions that exist only in movies.  She’s forgotten everything that happened in the first 5 movies and yet is completely functional in every other respect.  Really?

They also seem compelled to turn the characters into action heroes.  I won’t go into the details, but there are sequences that make Daniel Craig’s train jumping and bridge-diving sequences seem positively realistic.  Moreover, the race scenes in London were just flat-out impossible.  There might be times when Piccadilly Circus and the Embankment aren’t bumper-to-bumper, but I’ve never seen them and I’ve driven at some pretty random times through central London.

The hand-to-hand combat scenes in the London Tube were entertaining in their own right and the antics between Dominic’s crew continued to be appropriately silly with some not-so-sly jabs at Dwayne Johnson’s physique.  Speaking of which, Johnson looks like he just walked across the back lot from GI Joe: Retaliation, muscles rippling and in full battle gear.

Of course, the vehicles are awesome ranging from classics such as Ford Mustang and a Ferrari 360 to a Land Rover 110, International MXT-MVA to a Chieftain tank.

I know I’m in the minority here.  Rotten Tomatoes gave it 78% as of this writing and judging from the crowd’s reaction, clearly people are enjoying it.  I hope that the next installment goes back the simplicity that made the first five so appealing.

Olympus Has Fallen (Spoiler alert!)

OK, it’s an action movie weekend. I went to see ‘Olympus Has Fallen’. The short version is that I was underwhelmed and disappointed by this jingoistic film.

NB: Some spoilers follow.

It should come as no surprise that it is a film laden with chest-thumping patriotism pretty much from start to finish. Watching it here in London, I couldn’t help but wonder what the rest of the audience (I’m assuming that, as an American, I was in the minority) thought of that. Especially when the lead was played by a fellow Brit, Gerard Butler.

Generally, I found the story to be pretty uninspired, as it’s really just yet another chapter in the “fallen hero against all odds trying to regain his honor” genre. There have been numerous films in this genre and the resemblance to the ‘Die Hard’ series is all too obvious. Unfortunately, this movie takes itself way too seriously. It’s as though the characters live in a universe where everybody is given to awkward pronouncements about honor and duty.

[Minor spoiler] But what I really found tiresome was the use of the “the wife must die” archetype. I don’t know about the rest of you, but it seems that when writers can’t think of anything else, they kill the wife and then for the rest of the story we have the hero being all angst-y about it. This is not to suggest that the hero should be blithe about it! The problem I have is that writers introduce these beautiful and loyal women who are often above moral reproach (think of the Madonna) and then they kill them off. ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ is probably one of the worst offenders I’ve seen in recent memory with poor Ashley Judd exiting the movie within the first 10 minutes. Gerard Butler’s character’s unfortunate involvement then becomes the driving motif of the story.

[Spoiler] So, we’re all then to believe that Gerard Butler’s subsequent rampage through the White House is about redeeming himself in the president’s eyes. Really? Was that what he’s thinking when he’s going on his videogame-esque level-by-level assault (you can almost hear the voice-over saying “Overkill, bonus points earned”)? If it was, it’s not apparent. The faceless villains simply pile up in a manner that’s more suggestive of ‘Hot Shots, Part Deux’ than anything else. And if that wasn’t enough, is redemption what he was thinking of when he summarily executes his former colleague for treason?

In classic tragedies, the hero’s monstrous behavior is dealt with by killing him off. Witness Julius Caesar if you wish to see what happens when you let your heroes live. This story has no such elegance or cathartic denouement and, in the end, because of that, it fails to inspire.

Oblivion

It wasn’t terrible but it wasn’t great either. My biggest complaint is that it feels very old from a sci-fi standpoint. No spoilers here, but the white-guy-who-gets-the-beautiful-girl-and-saves-the-planet plotline is well trod ground at this point.

The story and its plot elements might have seemed very futuristic 40 years ago, but now that we live in a literary world where science fiction elements regularly appear in mainstream literature (think ’11-22-63′, ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’), a story like this needs to be done really well (think ‘Firefly’, which btw, has nothing in common with ‘Oblivion’ but is an awesome example of how well-known plot elements can be woven into a heady mix).

Disclaimer: Olga Kurylenko is hot. So, they did get one thing right. 🙂

In The House (Dans la maison)

In The House (Dans la maison) is Francois Ozon’s latest film to make its way to English-speaking audiences and in this one he holds a mirror up and asks us what it means to be middle class.

The story centers around a high school literature teacher and one of his students, a student who writes an essay about his fascination with a classmate’s home and family. The teacher, uncomfortable with the theme of the essay, is drawn to the raw skill that the boy demonstrates and cannot help but encourage the boy to write more. Through these increasingly intimate essays we learn more and more about the classmate’s family.

Of course what brings about the conflict is that the life he uncovers is all too familiar; a familiarity that unnerves us because we know what lies beneath. The husband is obsessed with his work, the wife has given up her career ostensibly to help her son, but obsesses endlessly about redecorating her already beautiful home. But nobody is innocent in this modern tale of lost dreams and the teacher unwittingly encourages the boy to become more and more involved in the family’s life resulting in painful consequences.

If you have the chance to see this film, jump on it. But be forewarned; there is more to this story than meets the eye. There is steel in its gentile exterior.