It’s the age of artificial intelligence, and whether we like it or not, the line between man and machine is getting blurrier by the day. With its vast potential, AI, or automated computation, is being used to replace human beings in various industries. The burning question remains: What really differentiates algorithm-based computation from sentient life in the long run? And if it is emotion, can technology also emulate that in automation we conventionally don’t consider to be alive? Gareth Edward’s recent feature, The Creator, is not the first movie to raise such questions, but it certainly becomes the most topical one due to the way it handles the question at a time when the world is preoccupied with the utility of AI.
Aside from an emotionally complex tale of intrigue centered on man and machine, which almost accomplishes a retelling of Asimov’s revolutionary ideas along similar lines The Creator is powerfully evocative, as it creates a unique amalgamation of sci-fi imagery with Eastern spiritualism. There is noticeable inspiration from iconic sci-fi media like Blade Runner, the Star Wars saga, Avatar, and Children of Men, but don’t let that distract from the fact that this ambitious attempt was made on what is considered to be a shoestring budget for a sci-fi epic that flaunts sprawling vistas tinged with pastel hues or the snow-capped mountain ridges of the great Himalayas.
Why Does Joshua Try To Capture Nirmata?
The Creator opens with the definition of the Hindi word ‘Nirmata’ explained on screen, which, translated to English, is the eponymous title of the movie. One thing the movie gets wrong is that it denotes ‘Nirmata’ as a Nepalese term, whereas it has its origin in the Hindi language.
The Creator is set in an alternate timeline where humankind started experimentation on robots and artificial intelligence from a pretty early stage and created Simulants – sentient AI beings with human physical features grafted on them for greater resemblance. Humanity integrates Simulants, and other forms of AI automation in every major sector of life, right from defense, security, sports, to entertainment, and spirituality. It’s evolved to such a point, they are treated as equals to humankind, and even their sovereignty has been accepted.
With two dominant sentient species on a planet, natural or otherwise, a clash becomes imminent, which culminates in one of the worst tragedies of human history when AI destroys the city of Los Angeles using a nuclear warhead in 2050, killing millions of people in the process. As a result, the West, led by the USA, aggressively starts shutting off the AI and hunting down all of its automated variations, but the other half of the world, led by the Southeast Asian state known as New Asia, decides to open its doors for the AI to take refuge. To detect and destroy AI-led outposts across the world, the USA develops the pinnacle of their defensive capabilities: a military space station known as NOMAD, which hovers across the world and bombards targeted areas in a sequence that seems to be a scary upgrade of the Vietnam War’s Napalm bomb. The latest target of the States is an extremely elusive fugitive known only as Nirmata, who is behind the strengthening of AI forces in New Asia.
The scene shifts to fifteen years later, as special agent Sergeant Joshua Taylor is tasked with infiltrating a suspected group of Simulants in New Asia in search of Nirmata. An amputee dependent on artificial limbs, Joshua has felt the brunt of the clash between humans and AI as he survived after being torn apart during the LA disaster, but the rest of his family weren’t as lucky and perished in the crisis. Needless to say, he considers AI a fake imitation of life whose responses are a product of programming and he has a personal stake in tracking down Nirmata. During his mission in the group of Simulants, Joshua falls for the sole human member of the group, Maya. The duo eventually fall in love and marry, and soon enough, they are shown to be expecting a child. Unfortunately for the couple, Joshua’s cover gets blown after a unit of US forces attacks the Simulant base prematurely, destroying the base using NOMAD’s arsenal and supposedly killing Maya in the process.
What Is Alpha O? Why Did Joshua Return To New Asia?
Five years after the fateful incident, a grieving Joshua is working cleanup in the LA disaster zone when he gets visited by Colonel Howell and General Andrews, who want him to lead a field mission in New Asia, this time with the objective of both capturing Nirmata and destroying the latest creation of the elusive inventor, known as Alpha O, which can allegedly destroy NOMAD and bring about the extinction of humankind in the process. It’s very in character for the West to consider the nullification of its defense to be the annihilation of humankind, to be honest. Anyway, Joshua couldn’t care less about any such ominous proposition, as losing Maya had already snuffed the life out of him. It’s at that moment that Colonel Howell shows him footage of Maya still alive and acting as a part of the same simulant group in New Asia. Initially shocked out of his wits, Joshua begrudgingly agrees to take Howell and her crew to hunt down Nirmata and Alpha O in New Asia.
Reaching the supposed location of Nirmata’s current lab, which is situated over agrarian village belts, American soldiers engage in their usual pathetic torture methods and terrorize the villagers to learn about the access to the lab. Using his experience, Joshua reaches the secured area of the lab and finds out that the Alpha O is a Simulant with the appearance of a young girl who displays every behavioral trait of a human girl. Initially taken aback by its appearance, Joshua learns that Alpha O can control almost any form of electronic mechanism remotely and that it knows the location of Maya. But before their interaction can proceed any further, the majority of American soldiers in Howell’s unit get killed by the New Asian police force, and NOMAD bombs the village, but Howell, Joshua, and Alpha O manage to survive.
Was Joshua Able To Find Maya?
The next morning, Joshua ditches his mission to find Maya with the help of the Simulant, whom he has dubbed ‘Alphie’ and heads towards Leelat City to meet his former army buddy, Drew, under whose direction he infiltrated Maya’s group in the first place. Howell, who has managed to evade capture by New Asia forces, learns about Joshua’s desertion and, using a digital memory archival mechanism, gets to know about his current destination. On the other hand, New Asia forces issue a broadcast denoting Joshua as a fugitive and follow their trail to Leelat City as well.
En route, Joshua connects with Alphie as the latter starts questioning mortality, life, and humanity with childlike wonder, almost evoking a sense of innocence as Joshua can’t help questioning his preconceived notions about AI automation. Contrary to what Joshua had been informed, Alphie is far from a devious mechanism of human (West) extinction and only wants humans and robots (AI) to coexist. As the duo meets Drew in the city, his examination of Alphie reveals that it is supposedly the strongest Simulant ever created, which can ‘grow’ and increase its power while doing so. In an ambush by New Asia forces, Drew’s Simulant lover, Kami, dies, and the trio somehow manages to escape. Hot on their trail, Howell arrives at the location as well and learns about Joshua’s whereabouts once again by stealing memories of Kami through the archival machine.
A desperate Joshua returns to the former Simulant Group residence, which was destroyed by NOMAD’s attack, by tracing a hidden beacon mechanism Drew had given him previously to tag Maya with and finds nothing but the horrors of past memories. Alphie recognizes Maya from the holographic last memories of her still playing at the ruins and learns Joshua’s perspective about sentient AI being merely programmed mechanisms. Desperate to cling to the last bit of hope, Joshua repeatedly persuades a distraught, tearful Alphie to reveal Maya’s location, and the duo share an emotionally charged, cathartic moment. However, an attack from Joshua’s former Simulant group follows, which results in Drew being mortally injured. Before passing away, Drew reveals that Nirmata is none other than Maya herself. Observant viewers will notice the unmistakable Hindu mythological allusion right there, as Maya was one of Vishnu’s forms, who is considered as the chief protector and preserver deity in Hindu myths.
Harun, chief of the Simulant group, captures Joshua and, much like all the other Simulants, treats Alphie as a revered being. Once again, the similarity with ‘Tulku’ in Tibetan Buddhism is absolutely on point with the presentation of the young female messianic Simulant Alphie. Harun reveals to Joshua that, as opposed to what the West wants the world to believe, the LA disaster was a result of a coding error made by humans, and the blame was shifted to Simulants. He also remarks that if Simulants win their prolonged battle against humans in the end by destroying NOMAD, they will seek nothing else except acceptance and co-existence. Joshua pleads with Harun to let him meet Nirmata, aka Maya, just once, but he refuses to do so because of his past travesties.
Joshua manages to escape captivity, follows Harun and co. to their village, and later sneaks Alphie out of there. At the same time, Howell attacks the village with additional forces, and Alphie feels the urge to protect them. Using her enhanced abilities to control technology, Alphie momentarily halts the attack but gets grievously injured by Howell’s loyal soldier, McBride. Joshua kills McBride, who was also part of his former team, thereby displaying the Simulants allegiance to Alphie, and they agree to take him to Nirmata, also because Alphie needs help to recover.
Did Alphie Save The Simulants In The End?
Harun and other Simulants take Joshua and an unconscious Alphie to what seems like a heavenly abode, Than Tom temple surrounded by beautiful snow-capped mountain range, where a comatose Nirmata, aka Maya, lies affixed with medical support. Once again, the spiritual symbolism is easy to ascertain. It is revealed that the NOMAD attack conducted five years ago caused the death of Maya and Joshua’s unborn child and nearly killed Maya as well, who since then has been in this limbo state, teetering in the space between life and death. The Simulants also reveal that, unbeknownst to Joshua, Maya had imprinted the identity of her unborn child onto Alphie, which essentially makes her their daughter as well. A devastated, remorseful Joshua also learns that the Simulants can’t put Maya out of her misery once and for all, as they can never harm their Nirmata at any cost and, therefore, are dependent on Joshua. Tearfully, Joshua bids his wife adieu as he disengages the life support system, and Howell and her force attack the temple at that very moment and download a deceased Maya’s memory using the archival machine.
A battle ensues between the Simulants and US military forces; Howell dies, and Joshua and Alphie are taken to LA as the temple premises get bombarded by NOMAD. Harun, who had survived multiple assaults from US forces by then, had urged Joshua to stop NOMAD to honor Maya’s memory before Alphie and Joshua were captured. Accordingly, Joshua manages to flee with Alphie by using her powers and travels right to the NOMAD space station using the spaceport. Anticipating Joshua’s plan, General Andrews accelerates his attack on all the remaining Simulant bases and tries to attack the duo using the space station’s defensive measures.
As researchers and other people from NOMAD evacuate, Alphie manages to temporarily shut it off as Joshua attaches a timer bomb to one of the weapon compartments. However, Alphie gets distracted by inactive stored Simulants bearing a likeness to Maya (she had donated her ‘likeness’ while she was still alive to evade capture) and tries to use Maya’s memory archives to activate one of them. Failing to do so, Alphie returns to the last remaining escape pod to escape with Joshua. As Joshua activates the bomb, the defense mechanism of NOMAD attacks him and stops him from getting into the escape pod. Joshua decides to stay back and launch the pod to save Alphie, and the duo share an emotional moment, expressing their feelings for each other almost like a filial relationship before parting ways.
As NOMAD is gradually destroyed by a chain of explosions set off by a timer, the aforementioned Maya Simulant awakens, and being imprinted with Maya’s memory by Alphie, recognizes Joshua. In his final moments, Joshua is able to reunite with his wife for one last moment, and as they share a kiss, the space station explodes, denoting the defeat of the human-led forces of the West once and for all. Alphie’s escape pod lands at a New Asia settlement, where she witnesses Simulants and other people celebrating the victory, chanting Nirmata’s name in unison out of gratitude and love.
During The Creator‘s ending, a tearful Alphie smiles, overjoyed and proud of her Creator, her mother—something that mere programming can definitely never impart to beings. With the battle finally ended due to the West losing its strongest weapon in its arsenal. Hopefully, humans and AI can coexist like Maya and Alphie always wanted.
The Creator acts pretty well as a singular narrative but has several elements that can be explored through spin-off movies if the makers decide to expand the universe. For example, the life of the first Nirmata, Maya’s father, can be showcased, along with how Maya was raised by the Simulants, which made her adopt a more sympathetic, familial perspective on the AI automation and eventually take up the mantle of her father. Even a spin-off revolving around a future where Alphie leads to a harmonious relationship between denizens of the West and AI can be considered a possibility as well, but it’s unlikely that the makers will try to explore world-building further than this.