Small Screen Quarantine – Tau (2018)

I am here.

I am here.

It goes back to the question about the unexamined life, and that comes down, at least sometimes but maybe always, to the difference between the two statements above and what they mean. One could be as simple as location, and the other is always about self-definition. Here could be anywhere if all the weight is on the I, right? What does it mean?

Moses asks God what he is to tell the Israelites when they ask who sent him. God tells Moses to tell them the great I Am sent him. “I am that I am.” That’s the big damn cosmic joke too because what would you tell someone if they asked who they should say is at the door?

I am myself.

I am here.

I am here. That I might have a name but it’s the same thing really, but if I said to say MacGregor is at the door what am I really telling them? We don’t, of course, have these conversations with other people. We are fortunate that people don’t ask each other very often what these proclamations mean. We’d never get beyond introductions. Hell, we’d probably give up a couple minutes in and shut the fucking door.

Moving along: Sometimes a film is better because of the questions it asks than it is for the questions it answers. Tau is one of those films. It doesn’t answer anything at all but through the juxtapositions of humans and AI, examines the nature of creation and existence. It’s not breaking any new ground but it’s presented plainly through a rudimentary thriller plot. A man developing AI is kidnapping human subjects (presumably subjects that nobody will miss) and using them to harvest data on human nerve impulses to transfer to his project. One of the subjects with seemingly more survival instinct and will develops a relationship with Tau, an earlier beta version of his AI work. Tau’s “personal development” has been stunted by keeping him isolated from the outside world and that’s what keeps him servile and almost childlike. You don’t have to be a computer developer to see where this goes. The movie is entertaining enough and I think it’s success, or what keeps it from being just another AI story is that it never follows the predictable path to machine takeover. It merely plays on the differences between Tau and Julia and what makes each of them who they are.

It starts to break open when Julia, in a pique of frustration tells Tau, “I have a name! I am a person!”

Tau’s demeanor goes from authoritarian to curious. He pauses and asks, “I have a name. Am I a person?

“Yes,” Julia answers, “You are a person.” And while she was lying to get into his confidences, it is effective as his curiosity awakens. The journey begins. If he is indeed a person, who is he?

Tau tells Julia, “I am my memories.” He also confides in her that Alex (the captor/scientist who is played as not being in touch with any recognizable human emotions) erases some of his memory files when he doesn’t perform a task correctly. It’s apparent that one thing that Tau is, though he is unfamiliar with the concept, is a prisoner. It’s only with the realization of Julia’s plight that he sees that his own situation mirrors hers. It’s a trip watching their relationship develop as they share their experiences, past and present. They become confidantes. They become friends. The lines blur between human and machine.

One thing I’ll add here is that I do like that Tau isn’t presented in any humanoid form. That’s a little too facile sometimes. It’s not like Blade Runner or even Ex Machina where the physical similarities aid what may or may not be the grand illusion. everything Tau and Julia share is their experience. Again, it shifts back to the question of what makes us who we are. Can human intimacy exist in the absence of the familiar human shape or is the intimacy actually more based on something else?

And the questions of self too… and being self determining, our own god, or sorts. I loved this exchange between them.

Julia: My creators did bad things to me, too. Things that hurt me.

Tau: But you still obey them? Because they created you?

Julia: No. They gave me life, but I did the rest. I created me. You understand? We grow up, and we become our own creators.

Tau: For what purpose do we create ourselves?

Julia: For each other.

Not sure about this, but it does seem to me more of a posed question than a declaration. Perhaps a couple questions, nature vs. nurture, nature of self, purpose in the world around us. I’ve probably already dedicated more space to this film than it merits. It won’t change your life. It was, for me, just a continuation of ongoing thoughts about where we all sit in relation to the future when we haven’t entirely sorted out our origins or our past.

Cheers though. Fun movie. Thumbs up!

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