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Emory Cinematheque


Spring 2024 Cinematheque

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The Emory Cinematheque, a series of free, professional film screenings offered by the Department of Film and Media and Emory College of Arts and Sciences, is back for its 42nd season. For Spring 2024, we are pleased to present “A.I. and Film,” curated by Associate Professor Gregory Zinman.

The use of AI was a central bargaining point in Hollywood’s recent writers’ and actors’ guild strikes and remains a hotly debated topic in terms of automated labor, pedagogy, medicine, business, and warfare. This series examines the provocative ways that artificial intelligence has been depicted in film. While the question of AI’s proliferation, the ethics of its use, and its status as an existential threat loom as our contemporary moment’s twinned technological and epistemological crises, cinema has been wrestling with the subject for decades, stretching all the way back to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), and its conflation of exploitable labor and unleashed eros in the proto-fembot figure of Maria.

In cinema, AI takes on many forms: insane supercomputers, killer androids, confused clones, and disembodied lovers. These sentient beings are not only intelligent machines, but also often fully embodied humanoids—clones, cyborgs, mechas, copies, replicants, and droids. AI in movies is deliberately similar to humans in one way or another; their appearance and manner only complicates their status as “other.” Films about AI thus hold up a mirror to humankind and asks us to consider the nature of what it means to be human and whether there are limits to that humanity. They ask us to consider the horizons of possibility for new and different kinds of intelligence, and whether they are compatible with society—and in what ways. They raise questions about the care and ethical responsibility we might have to forms of artificial intelligence.

“The films in this series make us think about the capacity of machines to be human,” says Zinman, “and, in turn, as our every desire is increasingly datafied, to ask how we are becoming more like machines ourselves.”

One of the themes in this series is the creation of new artificial life intended to relieve work, suffering, or responsibility. Free from standard means and pains of procreation and reproduction, cinema’s AIs promise to alleviate the burdens of family and workplace alike. Yet it is this very fear of replacement that animates our current off-screen fears about what AI will mean for the future of humanity. Can we outsource labor and love equally?

“We are excited to present a wide range of films—from indie comedies to cult classics to stateof-the-art blockbusters—that speak to the fears, hopes, and desires of our current sociotechnological moment,” says Zinman.

All screenings are on Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. in White Hall, Room 208. The Cinematheque runs from January 24 until April 24 and is free and open to the public. Unless otherwise noted, all screenings will be 4K restorations on DCP. They will be introduced by Zinman, with postscreening Q&A’s. For more information, visit the Emory Film and Media website or call 404- 727-6761.

Featuring Special Introduction by Provost Ravi V. Bellamkonda

Steven Spielberg’s heartrending interpolation of Pinocchio is about an android who wants to be a real boy. With their biological son in suspended animation, a grieving couple adopt David (Haley Joel Osment), a prototype mecha developed by Professor Hobby (William Hurt) who can be programmed to love unconditionally. Eventually abandoned into a climate disaster-ravaged world, David befriends a polyamorous sexbot, Gigolo Joe (Jude Law, in a performance that draws inspiration from Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire) to find the Blue Fairy who can grant him his ultimate wish. A.I. was originally going to be made by Stanley Kubrick, who began developing the film in the 1970s, but whose frustration with the day’s special effects stalled his efforts. In the mid-1990s, he turned the project over to Spielberg, who pays homage to Kubrick’s oeuvre (look for nods to The Shining and 2001) and uses many of the original designs for the film, making for a work that combines and reveals the two director’s distinctly different sensibilities in surprising ways.

The appearance of a mysterious black monolith at the “Dawn of Man” (referenced most recently in Barbie) touches off Stanley Kubrick’s science fiction classic about the relationships between humanity, technology, and higher powers. Written by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, 2001 is an opaque metaphysical film about human evolution that combines cutting-edge special effects with an art-house sensibility. Breathtakingly scored to the music of Richard and Johann Strauss, Khachaturian, and Legeti, Kubrick’s masterpiece was recently voted the Greatest Film of All Time by directors in the Sight & Sound poll. 2001 also helped introduce ideas about the promise and perils of AI. On an exploratory flight to Jupiter, astronauts Dave Bowman (Kier Duella), and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood), find themselves locked in a mortal battle for control of the Discovery One with their shipmate, the “foolproof and incapable of error” supercomputer HAL (voiced by Douglas Rain). When the true nature of the mission is revealed, 2001 rockets to “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite” in one of the most heralded and psychedelic passages ever committed to film. Douglas Trumbull won an Academy Award for Best Special Visual Effects, which hold up magnificently, and the film retains its uncanny power to this day.

A timely meditation on toxic masculinity in the tech sector and the increasingly blurred boundaries of our organic and constructed worlds, Ex Machina weaves a cautionary tale about the ethics of embodied AI. When desk jockey programmer Caleb (Domhall Gleeson) wins a company contest to spend a week with his pugilistic, heavy-drinking billionaire genius boss Nathan (Oscar Isaac) and his strangely silent assistant Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno) at an undisclosed research compound, he learns that Nathan has created a humanoid AI named Ava (Alicia Vikander). Caleb, initially beguiled by Ava’s intelligence and artistic acumen, decides to help try to free her after she tells him that Nathan is up to no good. Things…do not go well. “One day the AIs are going to look back on us the same way we look at fossil skeletons on the plains of Africa,” Nathan tells Caleb. “An upright ape living in dust with crude language and tools, all set for extinction.” Writer/director Alex Garland (Annihilation, Devs, Men) was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and the film took home an Oscar for Best Visual Effects.

When sad-sack divorcee Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), who ghostwrites intimate missives for the clients of handwrittenletters.com, sees a commercial for a new operating system, he immediately purchases it. Brushing aside the user agreement (we’ve all been there), Theodore learns that his OS is an AI named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), a brilliant and increasingly horny Siri who longs for a human body before transcending such somatic necessities. Raising issues of romantic and material ownership, Her asks us to think hard about what happens when our computers start to think, feel, and desire. Shot by Hotye van Hoteyma in a warm color palette said to be inspired by Jamba Juice’s décor, director Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, the Beastie Boy’s “Sabotage” video) deliberately polishes his trademark indie style to a techno-bougie sheen here, imagining a sleek future version of L.A. where human touch is scarce but voice-operated tech abounds (as do quite high-waisted pants, apparently). Jonze won Best Original Screenplay, and his dialog sings thanks to guileless performances by Phoenix and Johansson, who equally mine the script for nuances of comedy and heartbreak.

The ideas of AI and surrogacy are illustrated to horrific effect in Donald Cammell’s Bad Vibes Hall of Fame entry Demon Seed, a discomforting Roe v. Wade-era allegory. AI supercomputer Proteus IV (voiced by a menacing and uncredited Robert Vaughn) tells his smug scientist creator Alex (Fritz Weaver) that it will “refuse to assist…in the rape of the earth” by mining the earth’s oceans for profit while appearing fairly sanguine about doing whatever it takes to sire a child. In a prescient parody of a smart home gone wrong, Proteus IV imprisons Alex’s estranged wife, Susan (Julie Christie) in the hopes of creating a mecha-human hybrid with her—very much against her will. Alex’s chilling determination for the cybernetic throuple keep the “child” over Susan’s screams of protest emphasizes the enduring gendered biases informing the development of AI. Perhaps inadvertently, Demon Seed also provides an apt critique of Hollywood’s favored wellspring of “inspiration” and a contentious feature of generative AI—recycling intellectual property. Cammell makes disquieting use of existing IP in the form of experimental filmmaker’s Jordan Belson’s celestial abstractions. which serve to illustrate the otherworldly, decidedly nonhuman thought processes of Proteus IV. As a point of comparison, Belson’s Momentum (1968) will screen before the evening’s feature. Blu-ray.

Presented with the Emory Office of Ethics and the Arts

A roundtable discussion featuring Dr. Paul Root Wolpe, Director of Emory’s Center for Ethics, Laura Asherman, documentarian and Director of Ethics and the Arts, and Dr. Tanine Allison, Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies, will follow the screening.

This British-American coproduction, recently nominated for Best Documentary Feature and Best Debut Director at British Independent Film Awards (BIFAs), concerns the increasingly vexed topic of revenge porn—“a type of digital abuse in which nude or sexually explicit photos or videos are shared without the consent of those pictured.” The film follows college student Taylor Klein as she tries to figure out how her likeness was used in online pornography. Structured by an apropos twist that won’t be revealed in these notes, Another Body demands that we rethink the constantly changing legal and psychological nature of identity in the digital age.

Shot in a deliberately gritty ‘70s style, this comedy/sci-fi/mystery/Blaxploitation mash-up takes on a myriad of contemporary techno-social issues including surveillance, paranoia, conspiracy theories, consumerism, and racial politics. When Fontaine (John Boyega, showing incredible range when not stuck in a galaxy far, far away) a drug dealer in the Glen, a tight-knit urban community, is killed and shows up the next day at pimp Slick Charles’ (a loquaciously hilarious Jamie Foxx) place demanding payment without any memory of what happened yesterday, the two legally marginalized men form an uneasy alliance with sex worker and Nancy Drew aficionado Yo-Yo (an effervescent Teyonah Parris) to find out what why people are behaving so oddly in the Glen. The increasingly complex plot features mind-controlling fried chicken, and the film offers up a hilarious and disturbing story about white supremacy, raising the question of who wields technological power and to what ends. The film was made in Atlanta, and director Juel Taylor—in his feature-helming debut—demonstrates a deft touch with his actors as well as in his handling of the film’s many genre-bending twists and turns.

Ridley Scott’s loose adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? produced one of the most iconic and influential films of the 20th century in Blade Runner, a grimy, dystopian neo-noir about the value of life—regardless of whether that life is real or artificial. Harrison Ford shucks off his trademark charm in favor of a muted, weary performance as Rick Deckard, a plainclothes police officer in rain-soaked 2019 Los Angeles tasked with violently “retiring” four escaped offworld “replicants” led by Rutger Hauer’s tragic Roy Batty. These rebellious androids have come to Earth illegally, seeking to extend their short lives. When Deckard visits Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel), the creator of the Nexus-6 replicants, he falls for Tyrell’s assistant Rachael (Sean Young), who doesn’t seem to know her true nature. The Final Cut of the film is the only version over which Scott retained complete artistic and editorial control, restoring a lost unicorn dream sequence and eschewing Harrison’s lifeless and cliched voice over for a greater emphasis on Jordan Croenweth’s visionary cinematography, Vangelis’ glacial electronic score, 2001 alum Douglas Trumbull’s extraordinary special effects, and production designer Lawrence Paull’s neon-fired sets.

This contemplative film follows a family’s attempt to repair their beloved but no-longer functioning “technosapien,” Yang (Justin H. Min), an intelligent android older sibling to struggling tea shop proprietor Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra’s (Jodie Turner-Smith) adopted daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja). After an illegal memory-bank removal process allows Jake access to Yang’s memories, revelations about Yang’s life and loves slowly emerge, especially as they relate to a clone named Ada (Haley Lu Richardson). Director Kogonada (Columbus) and cinematographer Benjamin Loeb’s expressive use of glass and metals surfaces and careful framing evokes the look and themes of Spielberg’s A.I. while providing an empathetic rumination on the care and preservation of our technological brethren. After Yang imagines AI not as a threat, but rather as a mirror held up to our shared humanity and mortality, a melancholy theme beautifully supported by Ryuichi Sakamoto’s moving score—his last prior to his passing last year.

An absolute corker of hard-nosed techno-horror, The Terminator propelled its director and star into Hollywood’s stratosphere and made “Skynet” a shorthand for out-of-control AI capable of enslaving or eradicating humankind. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the iconic and notoriously laconic (he has only 100 words of dialog) role of a cybernetic assassin sent back in time by the ruling machines from the far-flung future of 2029 to kill Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton), who will give birth to the boy who will grow up to be the leader of the human resistance movement. Kyle (Michael Biehn) is the human rebel fighter tasked with saving Sarah. A chase movie par excellence, the film not only spawned five sequels, but instantiates the AI arms race currently being discussed by in boardrooms and war rooms around the world. “It’s not just about what AI gets invented. It’s about who applies it first,” Christopher Kirchhoff, a former director of strategic planning for the National Security Council who helped run the Pentagon’s Silicon Valley office, warned last year. Marked by James Cameron’s (Aliens, the Abyss, Titanic, Avatar) exacting direction, and Stan Winston’s celebrated makeup and effects work, The Terminator also helped propagate the ‘80s hard body masculinity that would be taken to steroidal extremes in the era’s action films that followed its success.

A funny and unnerving indie mockumentary by mumblecore progenitor Andrew Bujalski, done in an improvisatory style (cast and crew worked off of an eight-page script treatment), and largely cast with non-professional actors, Computer Chess follows competitors at a 1980 tournament as they strategize, tinker with their enormous “portable” terminals, win, lose, and gossip about military secrets—all while navigating interactions with the human encounter group currently occupying the same hotel. Shot on a retrofitted 1970s black-and white-video camera to evoke period-specific media and documentary aesthetics, the film investigates what it means to extend the boundaries of intelligence, and how those efforts, in turn, might make us more like machines than we care to acknowledge. The film first bowed at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize, given to a feature film that focuses on science or technology as a theme.

“Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real?...How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?” technoterroist Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) asks computer programmer/possible messiah Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), who goes by the nom de hacker Neo. With the help of Morpheus, Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), and a ragtag group of “unplugged” human rebels, Neo learns that reality is in fact a simulation run by sentient machines powered by billions of humans in suspended animation—and that he might be The One who can manipulate and destroy these machines, thereby liberating humanity. The turn-of-the-millennium thriller somehow mainstreamed both Baudrillard and cyberpunk through innovative “bullet time” special effects, startling fight choreography by Hong Kong action legend Yuen Woo-ping, and stunning visuals by director siblings Lily and Lana Wachowski. While the film won a host of technical Oscars, its ability to interrogate the nature of free will through kinetic filmmaking and wall-to-wall ass-kicking cemented it as one of the most well-loved and impactful blockbusters of all time. More recently, The Matrix’s themes of claiming one’s true identity, and its depiction of transformative mental and physical experiences, have led the film, made by formerly closeted trans filmmakers, to be embraced and celebrated as a trans allegory of self-knowledge.

In which “the living manifestation of destiny,” agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) of the Impossible Mission Force, squares off against “The Entity” a rogue AI that threatens the balance of world power. Featuring Cruise performing one of the craziest stunts in movie history, far more close-up magic than you might expect, and a grab-bag of religious references and digitally-inflected eschatology, director Christopher McQuarrie stuffs the latest Mission: Impossible with ideas and thrills in (almost) equal measure. The globetrotting actioner reunites audiences with Hunt’s team-slash-adopted-family—MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and longtime IMF best bros Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames)—while introducing us to professional thief Grace (Haley Atwell) and the mysterious Gabriel (Esai Morales), the Entity’s right-hand man, who has a long history with Ethan. Come for handcuffed Cruise and Atwell careening around the Spanish Steps in a stolen car and stay for the existential terror wrought by an untethered AI. Speaking of the latter: after a screening of the film at Camp David last year, Joe Biden’s chief of staff Bruce Reed said, “If [the President] hadn't already been concerned about what could go wrong with AI before that movie, he saw plenty more to worry about.”

Fall 2023 Cinematheque

The Emory Cinematheque, a series of free professional film screenings offered by the Department of Film and Media and Emory College of Arts and Sciences, is pleased to present “The Cinematic Worlds of David Lynch.” One of the most significant, eccentric, challenging, debated, and multifaceted American filmmakers still working today, Lynch has long operated on the fringes of Hollywood and his directorial career has been marked by several highs and lows. Although none of Lynch’s films have been massive hits, his name alone conjures the surreal peculiarity, dark humor, and ambivalent audiovisual tone defining his cinematic signature, a sensibility and atmosphere that many simply call “Lynchian.”  

"In many ways, David Lynch’s filmmaking career has been distinguished by the consistency of his vision—even as he moves through different media, genres, and platforms—and the inconsistency of critical and commercial success,” remarks Dr. Timothy Holland, Assistant Professor in the Department of Film and Media, who curated the series. “He remains a remarkable figure in the world of cinema not only for his ability to create unforgettable films and those ‘Lynchian’ scenes and characters he’s famous for, but also his ability to keep creating on his own terms.  His films belong neither to the mainstream nor the avant-garde, but occupy a space in relation to both, a space unique to his imagination, artistic output, and hold on our cultural consciousness."

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Past Cinematheque Series

Click below to see brochures from past Emory Cinematheque series. More coming soon.