This sci-fi, dystopian film (2015) shows how loneliness and despair can predispose vulnerable people into settling for a dangerous second best to provide meaningful interaction – in this case a half-human, half technological being called ‘muse’. Although exciting at first, this physically perfect yet psychologically flawed innovation, ends up boring and ensnaring Jack, who paid for her to be his companion.
Muse, in its modern sense, may be defined as “a person or personified force who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist.” Her inventors thought she was the perfect answer to the high divorce rate among humans because she would satisfy every wish and desire of her human companions. She was also portrayed as lacking in violent instincts. She is an upgrade of the ‘Stepford wife’, less robotic and far more human-like in behaviour.
Yet, it soon becomes clear to Jack that she has a schizoid personality and does not cope well with rejection as she shares in a matter of a fact manner that she once burnt down the house of her former fiance when she found out he was cheating on her. Spooked, Jack tries to return her, and his contract, and asks her to leave. To his shock and horror she refuses. This sets in motion a cascade of events which leads to his being held hostage by her in his own home.
This futuristic film holds many parallels for us in the present as we navigate the Covid-19 pandemic. Many have been forced to lockdown for extended periods in their homes in the interests of public health; many are afraid to leave their homes in case they catch the dreaded virus which could land them in hospital, on a ventilator or the mortuary. Social isolation is becoming more commonplace, and mental health is deteriorating.
Jack is house-bound which can be compared to a lockdown. However, he is in a prison of his mind caused by a soul-sapping combination of grief and self-pity. Having lost his wife in a senseless, freak accident, he is struggling to come to terms with his loss. He has remained house bound for years with the curtains closed , become addicted to bourban and cigarettes. His food is delivered to his door, and his only interaction is with a cat and service providers digitally through screens. Due to the lack of stimulation, he has become a frustrated artist, uninspired to paint.
Similarly, the Corona virus has ushered in social distancing measures whereby people must keep 2m distance apart when outside unless they are with members of their household. We have taken to having Zoom meetings, online shopping and digital communication to a greater extent; and it seems we are being reprogrammed to be weary of face to face, live human interaction in preference for digital interaction.
When Jack rejects his muse, she turns on him and ends up hitting him over the head with a baseball bat. He suffers a concussion, and suddenly becomes dependent on him for food and medical care. In true ‘Misery’ Kathy Bates style she holds him hostage by hand-cuffing him to his sick bed as he recovers. She points out the painful reality that he has nowhere to go and that nobody knows whether he is alive and dead.
Indeed, the more reclusive and secluded we become, the less we matter to others as our existence goes unacknowledged for so long that we risk becoming forgotten. Ironically, Jack is able to break free from his physical shackles, but not his psychological ones. Left home alone, the opportunity presents itself to escape to freedom, but he ends up having a panic attack and retreats back into his prison. Alas, he has become so used to his prison, that agoraphobia had set in.
Jack is oblivious to the fact that he is part of an experiment being conducted by the inventors of the muse technology. They want to prove that the muse is in every sense like a human and therefore is entitled to the same human rights. By attacking Jack, she has confirmed that she does indeed have a propensity to violence, and is therefore deserving of human rights. If this is the future which awaits us, robots and drones will not only be competing with us for our jobs but for justice in courts of law.
The question arises whether the lockdowns which have been imposed on large masses of humanity across the globe are a huge experiment which is not only flawed but will result in untold human suffering. We must guard against reprograming by others, habits of mind and body which will predispose us to addictions and leave us vulnerable to exploitation.