Saturday, March 16, 2024

Kybernetická babicka (1962)

... aka: Cyber Grandma
... aka: Cybernetic Grandmother, The
... aka: Die Oma vom anderen Stern (The Grandma from the Other World)

Directed by:
Jiří Trnka

They can speak like us. They can say all the right words and do all the right things. They can teach us everything we need to know. They probably make fewer mistakes. And they can claim to feel things and care about us and nurture us and pacify us and put on an impressive almost-human-like show of compassion and emotion. But can they actually fully replace us? This eerie sci-fi tale, which is as timely as ever despite being made over sixty years ago, theorizes that they indeed cannot. "They," in this case, being robots, cyborgs, androids, cyber-whatevers; machinery and computers programmed to replace human beings by duplicating what humans typically do in their day-to-day lives but also mimicking the assumed correct things humans should say. Despite being less prone to error, age, illness and the complexities of the human psyche, there isn't and likely will never be a suitable artificial replacement for family and friends of the human variety, says Trnka. After marveling at technology, taking advantage of it and playing with all of the cool new toys in a futuristic world, sometimes all you really need is a hug from your grandma.

At a small cottage, a grandmother and her beloved young granddaughter receive a message from the girl's absent mother delivered by a drone-like device. There's a lot to gouge about the coldness of technological advancement from this one brief message alone. The girl isn't referred to by name, even by her own mother. Instead, she's "the kid" and is given her new identification number, ACH028. And then there's the fact the mother automatically assumes the little girl must be bored staying with her old-fashioned and tech illiterate grandmother in her simple country cottage. After all, she prefers her quiet, simple life and doesn't even bother with all of the dazzling gadgets available to this advanced society. However, little does the mother know, her daughter is already perfectly content with her red ball and the affection she receives from her loving granny. Nonetheless, the message orders the girl be delivered to her new home.

The trip there is a journey through a graveyard of advancements past. A paved roadway is no longer used because cars are no longer used, TV sets, airplanes, weaponry and other commonly used things of the previous generations sit around covered in cobwebs. Once they arrive at their destination, the sad, scared girl is given her number, says goodbye to her grandma and is then whisked away to her new home, which may be somewhere in space for all we know. Just like any other product, she finds herself on a conveyor belt and is then placed in an egg-shaped glass pod that entertains her with machine-generated music as lights and other pods travel around a complex system where seemingly meaningless numbers, letters and symbols constantly flash. It's all impressive, yet cold, confusing, impersonal and sterile.

Finally arriving at her destination, the girl discovers her new home cavernous, quiet and deserted. Both of her astronaut parents are away; mom on some "geological expedition" and dad back on the moon. Left in their place to babysit is a robot (voiced by Otýlie Benísková) who's been programmed to behave just like a grandmother; even physically designed for that purpose to resemble a comforting chair with angel-like doily wings. "She" insists there's no reason to be scared, assures the girl it loves her, wants the girl to call it grandma and is equipped with all kinds of annoying old school phrases like like "A healthy mind is a healthy body!" and "Cleanliness is next to godliness!" When it comes time to scold ("Leaning out the window is strictly forbidden!"; "Sit straight!") it does so in the same artificially chipper tone. It coaxes her into a bathroom where robot arms do all of the cleaning for her and then sits her down for a bedtime story that involves murder and dismemberment. Needless to say, the girl is distrustful and horrified, but her story ends on a hopeful and heartwarming note.

This is another gem from influential Czech animator Trnka that I probably should have watched a lot sooner since I'd previously loved his allegorical short THE HAND (1965). His trademark combination of stop motion animation and puppetry is put to visually striking effect here, with unique, brilliant designs for this futuristic world, as well as an important message delivered in a concise and affecting way. Even more impressively, this is able to relay its exact intentions to the audience with surprisingly little dialogue, instead focusing on the visuals and sound design, with Jan Novák's varied score, alternately whimsical and disquieting / horrific, ably supporting the scenario.

Since we've already moved into an age where people are not only somewhat disconnected from nature and the outside world, but also somewhat disconnected from other human beings, what this has to say is even more relevant now than it was back in 1962. While the flesh-and-blood grandma may be slower and more feeble, she has the advantage of interpersonal wisdom and nuance gained through lived experience. Her genuine affection for her granddaughter is not something a computer can exactly or believably duplicate, just as the granddaughter is intuitively more receptive to love coming from an organic place that feels earned and authentic as opposed to a manufactured one.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...