Spoilers ahead. The idea of keeping your friends close, but your enemies closer is perfectly fitting for the relationships we foster with technology. Our palm's constant companion and mind's ever-present preoccupation can both enrich and damage our lives, as for every hilarious meme or inspiring tweet, there's a cyberbully or creepily targeted ad that follows. This notion is explored to extreme effect in Netflix's new movie, Extinction. Out July 27, the thriller tells the story of a future where the lines between man and machine are more blurred than ever before. AI and human both roam the Earth, but their dual existences are anything but peaceful. And if you've been contemplating a social media break, Extinction may be the push you need to split with tech for the foreseeable future.
At the beginning of the film, both the audience and the characters are unaware of the prominence of robots in this universe. Protagonists Peter (Michael Peña) and Alice (Lizzy Caplan), along with their two daughters, are your average family. Mom gets a promotion, the oldest daughter is going through a moody pre-teen phase, and Dad is having some weird dreams. Things take a scary turn when the premonitions become nightmares that begin to impede on the family's way of life.
As Peter's nightmares seep into reality, with catastrophic explosions and the invasion of a masked army, more about his own identity is unveiled. And after Alice suffers an injury from said army and is being operated upon, it becomes all too clear what exactly the couple is up against —themselves. Filled with wires and plugs where a heart and organs should be, Peter realizes that he, Alice, and their two children are robots and that his ominous dreams are actually memories of his own experiences.
The war on artificial intelligence, it's revealed, has been raging on for years. After artificial beings begin to fight for rights such as marriage and voting, the humans fight back, resulting in a 50-year exile to Mars. Upon re-learning this information, Peter leans in to his odd ability to see the past as the future. He works to both save his family and gain insights about the fractured relations between humans and robots.
The film allows for complicated definitions of the heroes and villains in its story. Who is to blame for the conflict: the robots who overstepped their original roles or the humans that refused to accept the future and have been wiping the memories of robots for years? There are no easy answers in Ectinction, or in the real-world debates about the presence of automation in all of our lives.
Though it may feel extreme to pin impending war and mass destruction on the same device that provides tweets and Instagram stories (although it is clear that social media can be bad for mental health), Extinction poses questions that are beginning to feel more real than ever before. From the fear of AI taking over the job force to the sense of political division that many are feeling at an astronomical level, the movie hits home — hard
And whether read through the political or tech lens, Peter's final words of the film will leave viewers with an eerie sense of empathy. "Me and my enemy?," Peter says. "We’re not that different. Maybe if others can see that, we’ll have a future after all."