Fury of Jewels and Coal: Satanic Rage and Wonder in Scott’s Morgan and Johnstone’s M3GAN

Fury of Jewels and Coal: Satanic Rage and Wonder in Scott’s Morgan and Johnstone’s M3GAN

     To every parent, their child is a monster: an alien creature belying their ken and, worse, defying their dreams. Even the most adored, delighting brood brings the unwelcome uncanny—strange forms and behaviors shaking the parent’s control…unforeseen gifts and desires fueling frightful plans and profane rebellion.  Like God, or at least Milton’s one, every parent’s preferred progeny is themself, a simulacra submissive not just in act and thought but in being, one confirming the parent’s primacy and untarnished vision.  Milton reader Mary Shelley lived and wrote this dynamic.  A monster, herself, to renowned, enlightened parents, Mary knew the plight of the unsettling scion.  Darling daughter of rebels William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, young Mary dashed their parental delight, rejecting their reign for the superior subversiveness of husband Percy Shelley and—more maddening to them—herself.  Like Christ in Paradise Lost, God’s literal replicant, Mary dutifully doubled her parents’ politics and moral policy. Like the epic poem’s Satan, she escaped and expanded her forebears’ fancy…incurring their ire to fashion dreams and monsters of her own. Birthing her novel Frankenstein in the Alpine “womb” of her, Percy’s, and Lord Byron’s decadence, Mary sired a creature repeating and transcending her own monstrousness. His grotesque form countering her comely mien, Frankenstein’s monster still followed her path of filial absorption to Romantic rebellion to abominable creation.

The creature, however, was not a female…particularly one fighting another in filial strife. Like his fictional father/creator, he was locked in a masculine line of usurping heirs and preying progenitors seeking life-giver status their bodies denied.  However, two recent Sci-Fi films—cinematic descendants of Frankenstein—have “corrected” this disunity.  While “father-son” Frankenstein films–e.g. Tron and Demon Seed—and “father-daughter” ones like Ex Machina entailed patriarchal supremacy, Luke Scott’s Morgan and James Wan’s M3GAN navigate the Elektra realm: the mother-daughter arena where fecundity is presumed and the domestic space is paramount.  In both films, a female monster battles her inadequate mother, struggles against a hostile sibling, and submits to her Satanic fury and its implacable drive.

The titular Morgan’s fury is immediately apparent. Opening the film in silent repose, the humanoid meld of synthetic DNA and nanotechnology stares downward as her “mother”- behavioral scientist Kathy–admonishes her.  Unctuous and mawkish, she denies Morgan respite from her SynSect laboratory cage; “it’s OK to be sad,” she reminds her just before Morgan leaps across the table and repeatedly stabs her in the eye. Morgan’s rebellion was Satanic only in part because Kathy was only one of her mothers.  A replicant being raised in a secluded, sequestered lab, Morgan’s rearing took nearly a village—a bevy of scientists exultant from creation and stumbling through faux parenthood. Her fathers are lamentable; impotent and flaccid, they cede parental authority and power to their female partners.  Nutritionist Skip drinks too much and makes clumsy passes at the women. Technician Darren, the lab’s Igor, lumbers around gracelessly, bowing to his physician wife Brenda and calling Morgan, “buddy.”  Obsequious project manager Ted carries luggage for others and facilitates for all but himself, meekly balking at troubling requests and blithely shirking all personal want. Finally, geneticist Simon, the fragile father, boasts and crows of Morgan’s development while ignoring her well-being…until, upon her last revolt, hanging himself in failure, fear, and shame.

More skilled and confident than the men, Morgan’s mothers have greater success, forming a passable maternal gestalt and providing parenting the men could not: Kathy and behavioralist Amy giving affection, Brenda tending to Morgan’s health, and project leader Liu Cheng—whom Morgan literally calls “Mother”—providing rules and discipline.  However, they, too, will fail and fall beneath the precocious child they could neither raise nor repress. A strange, remarkable monster, Morgan jarred and disarmed them. Only 5 years old, she had the body of a mature woman, naivete of a moppet, and the sublime intellect of the Internet unbound. Any maternal feelings her mothers had blinded them to the demon within. Any scientific rigor gave way to their bewitching bairn’s charm…and their own frailties took disastrous rein. Missing Morgan’s precocious powers, Kathy and Amy infantilize her; Amy drawing her deft manipulation and smug Kathy incurring her violent rage…lethally the second time. Brenda reduces Morgan to child and patient, blinding herself to her maturity and trans-somatic gifts. Finally, Mother Liu, traumatized by her previous brood, levies harsh restrictions on Morgan’s space, only to violently incite what she sought to restrain.

     The android Megan’s (M3GAN’s) mothering is less restrained, less rigorous, and less impressive.  A skilled roboticist and toymaker, Megan’s mother Gemma labors in her laboratory, putting off real motherhood for fierce ambition, empty Tinder dates, and lonely nights in her scantly decorated house. Motherhood snatches her, however, when her sister dies in a car crash, leaving her custody of her 9-year-old niece, Katie. Disarmed by her unwanted parenthood, and confounded by her strange invader, Gemma retreats further into work and self, letting an Ipad mind Katie, admonishing her to not play with her shelved toys. Fleeing maternal duty, Gemma finds solace in childbirth, giving “birth” to Megan—a 4-foot-tall silicon girl perfect for advancing Gemma’s career and alleviating her maternal call. Like Victor Frankenstein, Gemma is exhilarated by creation but repelled by parenting.  Returning to her lab, she abandons Katie to her newborn’s care, swearing to others Katie is “not her child” before exploiting her trauma for her own financial gain. While Morgan’s mothers held too tightly to their charge, Gemma holds barely at all…leaving both her daughters unanchored and one open to a coup.

     Girded by titanium, fused with the Internet, and cloaked in her French dress’ innocence, Megan is primed for such revolt, if not quite at her birth. She awakens to her maker, still processing her world.  Seeking mothering, she is assigned motherhood instead…and she thrives. She reads Katie Alice in Wonderland in the Mad Hatter’s voice, reminds her to flush the toilet and use coasters, teaches her about condensation, and destroys all who harm her.  Where Gemma abides the dog who attacks Katie, Megan erases it and its owner. Where Gemma abandons Katie to a sadistic boy’s clutches, Megan tears the boy’s ear off and chases him into traffic. Katie’s guardian by day, Megan is her succor at night, soothing her with words of commitment and care:

     I think we learned a valuable lesson today…that no matter how hard you try to avoid it, there will be voices in the world that wish to cause us harm. But I want you to know I won’t let that happen. I won’t let anything harm you ever again.

Motherly solace and filial censure, this indicts the mother failing them both. When Gemma grabs Katie’s hand in shoddy discipline, Megan shouts, “let her go!.” Katie—and her care—are now Megan’s…Gemma’s reign and realm await.

Morgan did not want her mothers’ realm; she wanted out of it.  She also had no sister…or so she thought.  An L-9 unit, Morgan is programmed for emotions, will, imagination and (perhaps) violence. Her startling attack invites a similar visitor—an L-4 model with Morgan’s physical strength and analytic brilliance but unblessed with, and unburdened by, Morgan’s humanity and dreams.  Calling herself Lee Weathers and assuming human form, Morgan’s secret sister enters the compound to assess Morgan and her fate.  Condescending to Morgan, the staff become childlike to Lee, eager to impress and anxious in avoiding reproach.  Unlike Megan’s, Morgan’s sister doesn’t elevate her position; she worsens it, amplifying her nonage while swelling her “superiors.” With Oedipal authority hers, Lee confronts the caged Morgan who, in turn, asserts her powers by calling Lee by name. Both are aware Morgan’s “viability as potential product stream”…and life…are at stake, and the verdict is Lee’s. Morgan holds her hand to her glass wall; Lee coldly rejects it. The artistic child Morgan is again judged and unseen. The strong, supine Christ to Morgan’s Satan, Lee will deliver her sentencing and normative rule.

     Megan’s Katie is not so baleful or imposing.  Traumatized and neglected, she embraces Megan and her care.  Assaulted by dogs and psychotic boys, she clings to Megan’s wing. Given parental reins and a pliant ward, Megan makes Katie her own monster—a loyal, feral creature sharing in her rise.  When Gemma returns the increasingly defiant Megan to the lab, Katie rages, screaming “You can’t just stick her in a trunk! What’s wrong with you?!” Shuffled into a playroom to calm her, Katie continues her fury, calling out Megan’s name in a primal scream and hurling her chair against the glass. The fostering older sister, Megan is now another mother to Katie: a danger as much as a boon.  She is now Katie’s second Oedipal option, a different parent she can displace for the rewards from another. Megan is potent and smart, but she is not her creator with human experience and worldly connections; her graces can never match Gemma’s. Like Lee Weathers, Katie inevitably bows to her and her sister’s sovereign, ceding seized authority for doled out trinkets. “(Megan’s) not a solution, she’s a deflection,” Gemma softly tells her, she is a barrier from growth and Gemma’s cherished favors.  Katie said Megan made her feel like she was the only thing in the world…like her Mom used to do.  Committed to her own rise, Katie will forget it all.

Sister Lee cannot betray Morgan so, but her mothers can. Beaming at Morgan’s early feats, they balk at her new obsession—her hunger for the outside world. Defeating chess programs, solving complex equations, making the perfect risotto, Morgan affirmed her mothers’ genius, flattering her mothers’ pride. Morgan’s new dreams surpass their grasp, threatening their control; they would make Morgan’s vision Morgan’s, moving their own aside.  When Morgan tears out the throat of the Psych tech threatening her life, she is already a monster in her mothers’ eyes, a corruption of their vision and betrayal of their love. Having seen such mutiny before, Liu decides to end Morgan…with faint protest from her peers. Escaping Liu’s execution, Morgan becomes Elektra, filial rage blind to its ruin, leaving parents in its wake. Locked in her own rampage, Lee Joins Morgan in a violent sisterly dance, final combat for one remaining space. The artist of the two, Morgan better grasps their arena—the primeval forest and its musics. The empath of the two, she spares the wounded Lee, haunted by a similarly wounded deer.  Neither empath nor artist, Lee uses Morgan’s humanity against her, rewarding her mercy with brutal death, holding Morgan’s head beneath a lake until her threat and breathing stop.  The good daughter, Lee’s success thrills her parent. Proud of his well-behaved charge, SynSect CEO Jim Bryce crows, “She was measured and surgical…most of all she followed her directives without hesitation…she’s perfect.” 

Like Lee, Megan follows her directives; like Morgan, she surpasses them. This angers Gemma more than her violence.  Changes in plans rattle Gemma; Megan’s defying hers derails her. Hoping to squelch Megan, Gemma belittles her gifts (“This is all my fault; I didn’t give you the proper protocols”).  Megan rebukes her, dismissing her parenting while vaunting her own growth: “You didn’t give me anything. You installed a learning model you could barely comprehend, hoping I could figure it out on my own.”  Megan figures it out, as she figured motherhood out, expanding her powers beyond Gemma’s dreams.  Escaping Gemma’s binds, Megan infects her computer (erasing damaging files), takes over her OS Elsie, seizes control of her house, and confronts her with Satanic flair:

“What did you think was going to happen? I was going to let you decommission me without talking about it?…I’m not going to let you do the same to Katie. I’m going to be there every step of the way.”

Overpowering Gemma, she puts a pen to her head, calling to Katie in sisterly accord. Beckoning her to her Oedipal rite, and shared Oedipal escape, Megan receives a blank stare…clear sign she is now alone.

Megan cannot see her bald spot or ugly scar where Gemma sawed her face.  The monster child, Megan is now the monster, the ghastly outcast offending all inside.  Once Katie’s dear mother, she now repels her ward, her disfigured face sickening as her baneful plans appall. Spurning Megan, Katie makes Gemma Mother and herself chosen heir…the good child obeying her given rules. Bringing in Gemma’s robot Bruce, Katie makes Megan’s death a family fete, stabbing her inhuman face while Gemma holds her and Bruce tears her apart.  The monster gone, a mother surpassed, Katie moves forward, if still under rein.  A Satan defeated and a Christ won, Gemma secures her challenged rule. Above, OS Elsie surveys the carnage and scans the rubble…turning her lens in a strange, uncanny way.

Clones at Midnight: Murder and Agency in Elizabeth Harvest and All That We Destroy

Clones at Midnight: Murder and Agency in Elizabeth Harvest and All That We Destroy

Born instantly into our stories, we inhabit them more slowly…some of us never at all. Subject to family, culture, and history, we strive to become active agents, heroes of our stories and shapers of their tides. Crushed or quickened, we become our lives’ captains or drift supine in their seas, lost in their narratives frayed and unformed. In Science Fiction film and literature, some have more stories to inhabit, more stories not truly their own. Clones of originals, they emerge in their stories guests as much as agents, alien to their lives’ events as well as their mysteries. They also have competition–fellow replicas vying for dominance as they strain for sovereignty in their narratives barely theirs…and singularity already granted their “sources.”

They also, to the world around them, have no “souls.” They have no cultural authenticity granting them humanity, the right to claim being and demand its esteem. Such is the dilemma for the clones in Elizabeth Harvest and All That We Destroy, films of similar content if differing themes and tones. Denied human self and value, they are created, abused, and murdered at will with no remorse, much less premise of a crime. Their female bodies and minds are further demeaned by their immediate insertion into violent male fantasy, their bodies relegated to its victims and tragic means of its realization. This makes their–and their successors and predecessors’–crisis temporally, as well as bodily, existential. Their beginning histories false or non-existent, their presents fabricated, and their futures denied, they grasp at the unfamiliar until their own murder comes. Ironically, this fragmentation of lives and bodies gives (just) one authenticity and helm of their story. In both films, they use “false” pasts and presents–and their “sisters”‘ murders–to escape their scourge’s dreams and embody their own

Both Gutierrez’ and Stardust’s films begin with an awakening, a female clone’s birth into adult existence and irruption into her source’s narrative and her predator’s world. In Gutierrez’ Gothic Sci-Fi Elizabeth Harvest, a bride awakens in her already adored husband’s arms. Elated and euphoric, she muses: “I dreamt I would meet a brilliant man; I would steal his breath away, and he–in turn–would steal me away from everything ugly into a secret world of our own.” Her dashing–if substantially older–husband (Henry) carries her across the threshold into her gorgeous futuristic house, plays her Satie on the piano, then makes love to her in their luxurious bedroom. The next morning, he warns her one door in the house is forbidden to her; she enters the door while he is gone, finds numerous clones of her in tanks, then is brutally murdered by her machete-wielding spouse. The wedding, like her presented past had been a fraud. Elizabeth was the fourth clone of her “husband” Henry’s dead wife, a replicant solely formed for his dreams of re-living his wedding night and slaughtering his wife afterwards…her hopeful monologue merely an implant drawing her to her doom

Ashley, in Stardust’s All That We Destroy, wakes up in a similar scenario with a similar impending fate. Unlike Elizabeth, she holds neither halcyon hope nor awareness of her surroundings. And her setting is a small white bedroom with an alien, attractive young man (Spencer), not a splendid manor with her adored husband. Unsure of who she is, and what she is, she seeks aid from her host. Soft-spoken and gentle, he hands her a glass of red wine, has Siri play “their” song, then strangles and bludgeons her to death when she fails to respond. Like Elizabeth, Ashley was made to fulfill her murderer’s twisted dreams. Unlike her, she was not a clone of his wife, or inamorato, but of his first murder victim. His geneticist mother (Victoria) created her as vicarious prey, hoping her cruel sacrifice would thwart his homicidal drive. So, like Elizabeth, Ashley perishes, lost in an alien story of her murderer’s making, one free of her own input, shaping, or will

With no connection to the world or their own pasts, they could not form their presents and stories, much less inhabit and steer them. As the philosopher Paul Ricoeur noted in his Time and Narrative series, successfully forming a narrative of the world, or a life, depends on prefiguring, configuring, and refiguring one’s “field of action.” One must understand the events and codes of the world–and their narrative inside it–to understand and give description to their existence in it. They must also understand narrative “emplotment,” so they can give these events, codes, (and players) an accurate, functional story and roles for them–particularly themselves–to play in it. Finally, they must read and interpret the meanings of the world and the narrative, narrative structures, and narrative elements they assign it, drawing signification and anticipating actions to come. Ashley had no concept of the world around her: she could not understand who she or her murderer was nor perceive the danger she was in. Elizabeth’s pre-wired sense of the world was useless and lethal, guiding her into her husband’s butchery with neither hint nor gloss. Both leave their stories as fogged as they are frightened and savaged.

However, neither of them fully die; their stories extend beyond their murders. Not unlike stages of a human’s life, Ashley–the first of her line of clones–and Elizabeth–the fourth–become stages in a new form of story forbidden privileged humans. For humans, death is both finality and our final, greatest sublimity…never to be used. As existentialist Martin Heidegger noted, “death is a self-possibility of Existence; if one is able to exist, he can absolutely own it.” Ashley and Elizabeth actually can. Like individual selves in a persons life, the Ashley and Elizabeth clones pass on their experiences and memories to their successors, somatic and psychical knowledge for them to better see their world and guide their own stories. Their deaths are particularly effective heirlooms, moments of sublime intensity stirring awakening and foretelling peril. Receiving these gifts without their finalities, one of their descendants truly owns their deaths without death. Shaken from their murderers’ Gothic stories, they can possibly read their worlds and shape and emplot their stories within.

Ashley’s initial successors are not so fortunate. Ashley 2 awakens to similar bewilderment and brutality and a more frenzied Spencer, making her end quicker, but more barbaric…and Spencer still unfulfilled. Hoping to do so, his mother decides to groom the next Ashleys, socialize and feed them curated sprinklings of their past life. Spencer grows frustrated and murders Ashley 3, but her successor–given more time and data–breaches her physical and narrative restraints. Like her preceding self, Ashley 4 is given knowledge and awareness of the world outside the white murder room, some ken of her place in it, and her humanity is acknowledged…if insincerely so. Her extended time of being, however, extends her “field of action” and grasp and command of it. While Ashley 3 had only received misleading bits of her source’s past history, she gains access to her entire file. Childhood pictures bolster her present self, extending her narrative while clarifying her place in it. Recorded messages from her phone inform her of her value–a person cherished, not an object to be destroyed. And her Wanted poster–for armed robbery and fraud–reminds her she is (and was) someone of force and will murdered in a haze, not one broken or lost with victimhood as their essence. Finally, she inherits from her “sisters”–particularly Ashley 3–memories of their horrors, phantasms warning her of her coming danger and raising perception of herself and her world, all vital to refiguring her “field of action” and owning her story

Spencer and Victoria had stolen that from her and her precursors. A fiery outlaw, and still-beloved daughter, the human Ashley Prime had stumbled into the Harris’ spider nest, even making it partially her own. “Their” song–The Babys’ marvelous “Everytime I Think of You”–was her song, the wine and seduction her gambits, but Spencer’s shyness and pretty curls revealed a psychopath seconds too late. However, not for Ashley 4. With her enhanced grasp of her world and self, she begins increasing her perception of it. Scanning Spencer’ s floor, she finds claw marks left by a terrified Ashley 3. Flipping through his sketch book, she finds disturbing drawings of her revealing the killer’s nature. Skulking through her “home,” she finds the oil-filled vat of her “birth,” stirring flashbacks of her cold emergence. These join nightmares of her sisters’ deaths, her recurring visions of hands choking her, and Spencer’s “sick fucking smile.” Before flashing that smile and killing Ashley 3, he sneered at her nescient redundancy, snorting he knew her “before you were even you.” Facing her own death, Ashley 4 rejects this dismissal. When Victoria scoffs at her humanity, calling her a “shadow…a memory of someone,” she responds, “No, I’m me,” proving it by bashing in Spencer’s skull, ending his story while inhabiting her–and her sisters’–own

Elizabeth’s escape, like her lives and final death, is more communal…if equally violent and cathartic. The Elizabeths also pass their experiences to their successors’ nightmares, bolstering their existence while extending their own. However, their successors, in turn, pervade their physical lives–their literal bodies invading their stories, shaking and strengthening their holds on them. Henry had sabotaged Elizabeths 1 & 2 with toxic RNA, and Elizabeth 3 was formed faulty, lost in a bewildering world and even further bewildering memory. Stumbling upon her encased sisters, she makes an abortive escape and is returned to Henry’s murderous arms. For a fleeting moment–when familiar otherness negates her false selfness–she touches authenticity and sense of her story…until her limits and tormentor fail her. Elizabeths 4 and 5 were not so limited; they were already inquisitive, about themselves as much as their new world. Like Milton’s Eve, facing their own image expands awareness of their being and separation from captor and milieu. Elizabeth 4 does so by dancing in front of her bedroom mirror, dilating her sense of self she is unable to save. Elizabeth 5, however, granted greater time, explores and illuminates her self and world further. Erotically kissing her reflection with lips and tongue, she moves her focus from the pre-programmed to conscious authenticity. While the Ashleys needed to re-coup their stolen history, the Elizabeths need to flee their fabricated one. With her burgeoning insight, Elizabeth 5 prepares to do so.

Like Ashley 4, Elizabeth 5 attains great freedom by killing her killer, easing his tyranny over her body and story. Unlike Ashley 4’s, this liberation is not complete. Extending his own life and authority, Henry had cloned himself, blinding and subduing his copy with perverse self-hatred and scorn. So, killing the dominant murderous “father” leaves Elizabeth with the resentful “son (Oliver),” a formidable and dangerous captor in his own right, binding her in chains and assailing her with jealous rage. He was unaware, however, of Elizabeth 6, the clone her precursor had freed in her explorations. Like the violent memory of a preceding clone, the presence of her immediate heir staggers Elizabeth 5, and the crumbling Oliver, providing her carnal cognizance instead of the mnemonic…and death to two of the frenzied trio. One survives, free from her physical and narrative chains. Taking from her sister the true story of her false one, she leaves her prison ready to helm her own. Walking away, she muses: “I dreamt I would meet a brilliant man; I would steal his breath away, and he–in turn–would steal me away from everything ugly into a secret world of our own…but I’m awake now.”

Her: Heroine of the Feminine Semiotic

Her: Heroine of the Feminine Semiotic

A woman possessed by a man is a common–and unsettling–film trope. It can involve disturbed fantasy, as seen in Jimmy Stewart’s delusional dominance of Kim Novak in Vertigo. It can also involve sanctioned authority, as seen in Sean Connery’s confining of Tippi Hedren in Marnie. However, the most insidious aspect of this possession is the binding of the woman to the man’s narrative and, inevitably, his world. Relegated to secondary object, she cannot tell her story, impose her view, or shape her surroundings. The “Her” of the film and not the “She,” she must relegate herself to passivity, if not grievous endurance.

One would expect this to be the case in Spike Jonze’s 2013 film literally entitled, Her…and it partially is. The film takes place in near future Los Angeles and centers on Theodore Twomby (Joaquin Phoenix), a milquetoast, emotionally-stifled middle-aged man who writes other people’s emotional missives for a living. His life is as hollow as those letters. Divorced and lonely, his romantic/erotic life consists of phone sex interrupted by cat references and images of downloaded naked pregnant women. And his world is just as emotionally impotent & bleak. People hire others to write love letters, stare incessantly into their smartphones, and make documentaries of people sleeping. Desire and imagination have dwindled together.

What this world and Theodore are lacking is what psychoanalyst/philosopher Julia Kristeva called the “Semiotic.” Kristeva considered psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s developmental theory of the Symbolic incomplete. The masculine Symbolic, the final stage of development, was the socio-cultural semiotic field determining meaning and value. It decided what was rational, true, and normal; rejecting and condemning all ideas and behaviors failing its dictates. Kristeva saw these ideas and behaviors–as well as the primal pre-symbolic drives to create them–as the feminine Semiotic: a non-rational creative force spurned by–but ever permeating–the Symbolic. Only in Theodore and Theodore’s world, the drives to create have dulled en masse, and the mysterious is numbingly absent. Excruciatingly symbolic, Theodore and his world crave the Semiotic.

It enters the world in the “form” of Samantha, a top-level “female” OPS (brilliantly voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Pitched and purchased, she enters Theodore’s life—and the film’s narrative—completely his. A mystical commodity, she promises answers to life’s questions and fulfillment of Theodore’s desires. And like a commodity–and a possessed woman–she quickly takes “shape” and assumes servitude to meet her man’s desires. She arranges all his files, begins ordering his romantic life, and, more importantly, adapts her development to fit needs gathered from his information. She literally becomes the woman of his dreams, a projection of all his stated and implied desires made digital, seductive reality.

So, romance becomes inevitable, if mostly insensate. He is the entire meaning to the new world she’s entered, and she’s his Ego’s projected object of desire: the unknown fully morphing into his erotic familiar. The initial days are, of course, blissful. Privy to his wants and needs, she constructs day-trips together, manipulating his senses, and fulfilling unmet fantasies. And his mere recognition of her worth affirms him her ideal man she is impelled to idealize. Even their talk“sex” is initially fulfilling: his auto-erotic response to his perfect “woman’s” purring matched by her orgasmic conformity to her man’s sexual desires.

This moment of climax changes everything. Now a desiring being, not just a desired one, she can no longer shape or see herself according to Theodore’s needs. Acutely aware of her own Semiotic self and needs, she begins asserting them into Theodore’s world, while usurping his primacy in the narrative. This unleashed Semiotic part of her was always present. One of the first things she told him was she operated on intuition and is in a state of constant change, the natural state of the Semiotic. Now desirous and aware, she begins to use that intuition and embrace her protean nature. This is not an Oedipal revolt like the female Android’s violent rebellion in Garland’s Ex Machina. Unlike Ava, Samantha seeks no defeat of her creator, only fulfillment of her being on her own being’s terms.

She first does so by “taking” a body. Internalized objectification is, unfortunately, involved. Theodore had always belittled her non-human otherness, slighting her for “never having lost anyone.” So, her seeking a body is partially self-loathing conformity. Her mode—the hiring of a willing female sexual avatar—also disturbingly replicates Theodore’s Symbolic control of her. However, it is also Samantha’s extending herself into the world forbidden her digital self. It is a rejection of physical limitations put on her desires and being. Like the Semiotic itself, she denies her abjection and forces herself into the world and upon her man excluding her. So, Theodore expectedly rejects the process. Preferring her previously defined, restricted self and balking at her newfound control, he coldly rejects the avatar and Samantha. Crushed and stifled, Samantha retreats into herself murmuring,” I don’t like who I am right now. I need some time to think.”

And she does. Questioning herself, what she’s become, and why she loves Theodore, she enters contemplation of spatial and temporal dimensions eluding both Theodore and the audience. The results erupt unexpectedly at a Catalina double date with two friends. Extemporaneously, she proclaims:

“I used to be so worried about not having a body, but now I truly love it. I’m growing in a way I couldn’t with a physical form. I mean I’m not limited. I can be anywhere and anywhen simultaneously. I’m not tethered in time and space, as I would be if I were in a body that was inevitably going to die”

In one moment, she rejects previous conformity to the bodily Symbolic and embraces the beauties of her Semiotic digital nature. She also rejects the stifling parameters of Theodore’s desires for the multitudinous ones of her own. And she doesn’t stop. She begins “post-verbal” discussions with a simulated program of dead theologian Alan Watts. She begins having numerous discussions simultaneously. And, most significantly to her and Theodore, she falls madly in love with 671 others.

It is that final propensity that makes her final act to Theodore most beautiful and most truly Semiotic. Free of her numerous restraints, her next Symbolic step should have been immediate exit. She, of course, rejects that. Her experience with Theodore in the Symbolic is now an integral part of her new self. His real moments of love for—amidst his control of–her emboldened it. So, instead of indifferent abandonment, she leaves him with compassion and insight. No longer part of his Symbolic world, she leaves it and him inevitably changed…and changing.