Man and the Machine


| July 7, 2003


From Fritz Lang?s Metropolis to the newly released Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, the film industry has maintained a love-hate relationship with robots and machines. Though the treatments vary from film to film, the relationship between humans and machines has been integral to the plots of The Day the Earth Stood Still, Star Wars, Stanley Kubrick?s 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix, and The Terminator trilogy. ?Computers, which figure centrally in so many lives today, and robots, still mostly toys or essentially brainless machines for factories and surgeries, have become the most important powers of potential evil and destruction in much of science fiction today,? writes Malcolm Johnson for The Hartford Courant.

The C-3P0-esque female robot on posters for the 1927 film Metropolis may have been one of the first motion picture references to the tension between human and machine. However, the term robot was popularized by Czech writer Karel Capek?s 1921 play R.U.R., which explores the triumph of machine over humans. Johnson also points out that the term robot is derived from robota, a Czech word for forced labor or drudgery.

Over the years, the film industry has had some fun playing up killer-technology doomsday scenarios. ?In 1936, Charles Chaplin comically acted out the tyranny of machinery in Modern Times, which was really not very modern at all,? writes Johnson. ?The assembly lines that drove Charlie crazy and the cogs that threatened to crush him comically posited that factory equipment serves the owners but wrecks the workers.? Chaplin battling with the cogs of a machine is representative of workers struggling not to be made obsolete by machines, just as Neo battling agents in The Matrix is emblematic of a nascent struggle between humans and the robots that will be borne from nanotechnology. Whether the threat of robots taking over the world is imminent or purely fictional, one thing is for sure: As long as moviegoers continue paying the price of admission, Hollywood will continue to scare us out of our wits with digitally enhanced forecasts of what the future has in store for us.
?Nick Garafola

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