In 2014 film, “Transcendence,” there is a dialogue that states that very soon, intelligent machines or artificial intelligence will allow us to conquer our most intractable challenges. The mentioned line develops a whole new meaning when we take into consideration taking care of kids. It is a prevalent notion that taking care of kids or being a parent is indeed an intractable challenge, a notion that “M3GAN” uses to establish its plot. In the film, we have a toy company called ‘Funki’ that aims to build toys for the future. Keeping in mind how parents struggle to manage time for themselves when there is a kid around, M3GAN is created to help kids learn as well as listen to them, allowing the parents to get on with their everyday activities. But shouldn’t everyday activities include interacting with your child as well? That’s the irony.
Cady is a preteen girl who loses her parents, Nicole and Ryan, in a tragic car accident. Naturally, the pain inside her cannot be comprehended. Then, when she is put under the protective custody of her aunt Gemma, whom she never really knew, her loneliness only gets worse as it does when the only person around is someone whom you don’t know and haven’t spoken to. Naturally, as Lydia, her therapist, tells Gemma, she forms an attachment with M3GAN as she is the only person, or person-like being, with whom she felt content after her parents’ passing. So being a kid, her reactions every time Gemma interrupts a conversation between her and M3GAN is akin to how she would have reacted if someone intervened between her and her mother, Nicole. At that young age, it is only normal to “pair” or connect with someone who spends time with her and listens to her with patience. She receives these from M3GAN, who then becomes more than just a toy or a caregiver for her. The scene where M3GAN asks Cady about her mother and then records whatever she says so that they both can hear it whenever they want is something that, frankly speaking, we all would want. Oftentimes, it so happens that when we reminisce our childhood memories, a certain moment comes to our mind that we never thought we remembered. Then we feel like saving it in some way so that we don’t have to struggle to remember it again. Some of us are successful in it; others aren’t. It is unlikely that Cady would remember the incident into adulthood, so it is a good thing M3GAN recorded it.
For Cady, there is nothing more she could really want. There is a scene in the second half of the film where we see Cady saying that the best thing about M3GAN is that she makes Cady feel as if she is all that matters to her, just like Cady’s mom used to. So, while we cannot really say that Cady finds her mother in M3GAN, she may have found someone who is as close as one can get to be her mom as far as sharing is concerned. However, when Cady finds out how dangerous M3GAN is, she is the one to take the first step to destroy her. The film doesn’t show Cady’s reaction to losing someone she clearly loved spending time with, or maybe it doesn’t really matter. As an audience, we tell ourselves that M3GAN is just a robot, so no matter how she behaves, she cannot be a human. Furthermore, she also killed many people. So once M3GAN is dead, we, just like the film itself, stop looking for ways to justify her behavior. And so even if she did what she did to protect Cady, she is wrong, and being the autonomous humanoid robot that she is, she needs to be thrown into the trash. But what if a human started to behave like a robot? This is where our next character comes in.
An independent workaholic woman, Gemma is all about her research, and she is always trying to better herself. After she brings Cady home, she has absolutely no idea how to interact with her. She hesitates to give Cady her collectible toys; she doesn’t want to read Cady her bedtime story, and she even leaves Cady on her own in the house while working in her office till late at night. She tells her friend Tess on the phone that she isn’t “equipped” to “handle” Cady. She is more concerned that her lead, David, is going to be very angry if she doesn’t complete her project on time rather than how her newly orphaned niece is adjusting. Her sister’s death has absolutely no effect on her. These actions and words prove just how robotic she has become and how her work has engulfed her to the point where she is unable to express her feelings at all. Later, in their workshop, Tess tells her what we mentioned in the intro about how M3GAN’s functions tend to be replacements for what the parents are supposed to do for their kids rather than being their support system. This is when Gemma declares that Cady is not her child. This shows that Cady is just a means for Gemma to greenlight her dream project, M3GAN, from her bosses at Funki. And all these force us to consider that the reason why Gemma took M3GAN away from Cady isn’t that M3GAN posed a threat to her but that M3GAN (her actions) could end her career. However, she makes the right move when she tells Tess not to go ahead with M3GAN’s announcement at Funki.
Ultimately, it is Cady who saves her from M3GAN. It seems that with time, we all are becoming like Gemma. We would rather give our phones to our children, with which they can play for hours without disturbing us, than play with them ourselves. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every parent that gives their kid a phone or a screen to look at doesn’t spend time with them, but social interaction is indeed paramount if we want to prevent a child from establishing a connection with a machine because it can never result in anything good. Playing with toys, other kids, and pets helps a child’s social skills to develop. Moreover, interacting with the child also involves physical touches and sensations that are crucial for his or her growth. Gemma doesn’t hug Cady once in the whole film. It is only at the end of the film that they both walk out of the house together after dismembering M3GAN, hand in hand. Maybe, Gemma had it coming. Who are we to question?
While she is no human, she is definitely a character of great significance. M3GAN is a potential Skynet (Terminator franchise) robot. Basically, M3GAN follows the trail of breadcrumbs spread by numerous AI-based films that show just how dangerous Artificial Intelligence can get if not put in check soon. Gemma made M3GAN to be a part of every family. Well, it is more dangerous than it sounds. For a robot to be a part of a family is something that, although we have all been subjected to it through shows like “Small Wonder,” is surreal. So while we, as humans, connect through emotions that, surprisingly, M3GAN is also programmed to carry inside her, we cannot help but address her as a robot. Thus, the question that arises is: Is it just emotions that make us human? No; humans, through millions of years of evolution, have developed to the point where we can subconsciously differentiate between what is human and what is trying to be human. This perception includes everything from mannerisms and appearances to gaits and everything else.
M3GAN, no matter how human she seems to be, cannot replace a human and thus can’t be a part of a family because she cannot carry the one thing that both separates us and binds us together, i.e., DNA. We wouldn’t need Artificial Intelligence if we could replicate DNA, but that’s not possible, maybe in the distant future but not presently. So artificial intelligence that is organically based on codes might achieve better states of consciousness but will never be fully aware, at least not unless it has developed for millions of years as we have. Coming back to M3GAN, she ultimately breaks the human barrier by killing for protection, but we have to hand it to her for saying that humanity has been killing itself only so that it can tolerate its own existence. We cannot help but agree with her and struggle to fight the thought that lurks somewhere deep inside us that we don’t want to admit, i.e., we can kill each other because we belong to the same species, but M3GAN can’t kill a human because she is a robot. The film, at its end, makes it clear that AI and the dangers it poses will thrive. After Gemma and Cady walk out of their home, Elsie, Gemma’s virtual assistant, turns on, making it clear that M3GAN (her intelligence had found its way inside Elsie) and is here to stay, watching and learning our ways and developing slowly but surely.