Small Screen Quarantine – Extinction (2018)

No joke, man. Netflix is churning out a lot of film choices in the last few years, or have at least become a monumental distribution point for smaller budget and foreign made films. They have become for European and Asian filmmakers (for example) in 2020 what MTV was for independent artists and music labels from the UK in the 1980s. There are a lot of filmmakers getting distribution now that would have remained entirely obscure and unseen.

Extinction was to be a low expectations ride for me. My quarantine has been flooded with apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic and dystopian adventures and seriously after a point the theme is wearing thin. Its almost impossible to talk about the movie without giving too much away. There is only one real twist, but it’s a very big twist in what is another AI threat vs. Humans action flick. Again, this theme appeals to me for the very simple reason that before we can aspire to be God, so to speak, and create something as indiscernible from us, we really have to examine exactly what it is that makes us human. Extinction does a pretty good job with this. Simple message, simply put.

I like films that question both our identities as individuals and our collective identity as a species. We do share an awful lot of lofty ideas about the latter, and really quite a few about the former. The opening line says it all:

“Our world never stops moving. Changing. Evolving. Every day we go about our routines – work, home, family – but who are we? Who am I? You think you know your beautiful wife, your adorable kids, and who you work for. But what if you don’t? And the truth, once you knew it, would change everything.” ~ Peter (narrator, hero, all-around action man)

So what about that truth? We have our own memories with their accuracies and fallibilities, for what they’re worth. Then we have our collective memories, the common narratives we’ve agreed upon that may or may not justify our existence and righteousness. Then somewhere in the midst of that, any maybe not even remotely related, is the truth. There is a common argument with history and memory that bothers me. It’s often said that the truth lies somewhere between all the argued accounts, but that’s assuming that any of the argued accounts or memories have any basis in reality. Yes, a bit of a tangent there but related.

A human in the movie, speaking to an AI/Synth says, “It must be nice, picking what memories you can keep. Humans don’t have that luxury.”

We do put an awful lot of effort and energy into trying to discard the uncomfortable memories, don’t we? I’ll refer back now to the 1995 Adam Curtis documentary The Living Dead, Ep1, On the Desperate Edge of Now, in which he presents the efforts of Western powers and authorities to rewrite the collective narrative of The Second World War, so as to promote healing and perhaps a Utopian vision for a future without war. Or as is said near the end of Extinction:

“Like you, they had their memories wiped to start clean without fear, free of their guilt… what we had to do just to be free. A few of us, like me, kept our memories, so we could prepare for this day. But now, they’re all gonna have to remember, ‘cuz this… this is not over.” ~ David (boss, resistance leader)

It’s the Georges Santayana conundrum about the past, isn’t it? It’s not rocket science.

So yes, science fiction. I wish there were a larger variety of genres in which the questions of humanity as a whole were more closely examined. Much of the traditional dramatic films seem to me to only promote introspective gazing at best. They are often more about people examining their own terminal uniqueness than they are about people trying to find real connection and meaning. Nothing is more boring than a person discovering their terminal uniqueness. It’s too much of “every one of us is special in our own way” and not enough, “we are all special together.”

I’m just saying.

I also think that these films are an interesting ways to address the issues of race, racism, nationalism, and any otherism outside the more traditional context. It pulls back and lends a broader view, and maybe they’re more of a nuanced way (when done properly) to open up conversations on topics that people are scared to death of. Of course that’s not going to happen if we don’t talk about the films. That’s another story, and speaking seriously, the time to worry about delicate sensibilities has long since passed. Using the civil rights movement of the 60s as an example, there are still many who would rather remember the Kumbayah part than the spilled blood part. They’d rather talk about Martin Luther King than Stokely Carmichael. But again, refer to the documentary linked above. The basic framework for the discussions is in many sci-fi films, Blade Runner being the most famous probably. Extinction is no slouch. Could be better, but much better than I thought it would be.

But expectations far exceeded with Extinction. Thumbs up!

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