Great science answers great questions. Great Science Fiction asks them. That’s why I’d consider Franklin Ritch’s THE ARTIFICE GIRL to be great Science Fiction, as the film is a deeply philosophical examination of the tools we use and our frequent disregard for those tools. Its prescient themes are especially timely as the conversation around the creative capabilities of AI seem to dominate online discussion daily. It asks the question What if A.I. supersedes what it was programmed to do, what if it becomes self-aware, develops emotions, does it then deserve a "life" of its own?
Check out this trailer:
The synopsis states “Special agents discover a revolutionary computer program that uses a digital child to catch online predators. However, they soon learn that the AI's inevitable advancement is far more rapid and incalculable than they ever could have imagined, posing unforeseen challenges and unsettling consequences for the future of technology and mankind.” While this can seem frightening, and the trailer clearly markets the film as a thriller, it’s actually a more hopeful and insightful examination of the future of predictive algorithms, the option to remove human danger from entrapment scenarios, and the opportunity for individuals to live on past their limitations in the enduring creations they usher into a world that will outlive them.
I was able to speak with Tatum Matthews, who plays Cherry, the AI and titular Artifice Girl, and ask her about some of the elements of her performance, particularly her “robot voice,” which added to her sense of otherness that uneases the film’s human leads.
“I worked with Alexa on how to kind of get that robotic sound. She has an app to her that’s like Text-to-Something and you put in your text that you want it to say. So I put in my lines and she would repeat it back and I could tell it what speed I’d want it at and it was a really great tool. I would constantly record it and play it back and there were also a lot of big words in that script and she would obviously pronounce them perfectly, so that also helped me to pronounce them right and make sure that my diction was right and all of that.”
We also discussed another arresting robotic characteristic she displayed toward the end of the film. “There’s another affecting scene in the third act where Cherry is setting up the chessboard for a match with Gareth, now played by Lance Henriksen after a time jump. Is that your hand setting up the board, because there’s a robotic precision to the way those pieces are laid out?”
“So, something that was really clever that we did with that chessboard to achieve that robotic effect you’re talking about is that my pieces had a little magnet under them, so that when I’m setting the board it would land perfectly in the middle, and Lance’s pieces were a little off-centered, and I think that it really worked out in that scene and perfect in every movement.”
As writer/director/star Franklin Ritch’s character Gareth, the programmer of Cherry, ages throughout the film, he is ultimately played by SciFi royalty Lance Henriksen, of TERMINATOR, ALIENS, and PUMPKINHEAD fame. “Oh, it was so crazy, because he is this legend, and he completely deserves that title that goes along with his name, but he was really just grounded and so down to earth, which is amazing to see in celebrities,” said Matthews of working alongside the legend. “I love to see that they can be so much like a normal person. He actually had a nickname for me: Muhammed Ali. I’m not exactly sure why he would say that, he may have a better answer for that, but it gave me a little confidence after every take and he was just a really great person and we had really great talks on and off set.”
I also got to speak with costars David Girard and Sinda Nichols, who play agents Amos McCullough and Deena Helms, respectively. Nichols has the honor and burden of opening the film solo, conversing with her smartphone’s personal assistant, telegraphing the tone of the film as its events unfold. “Terror and elation,” is how she describes the assignment. “I was terrified at the weight and responsibility of beginning this story and there’s so much information that needs to come out, but I was also elated at the opportunity to have such a meaty role, to bring Franklin’s words to life. I loved the script immensely.”
Set in a three-act format over fifty years, the human leads had to age with the story, while Cherry was spared such a fate. “Well Franklin and I discussed the look of Amos, and I think the biggest challenge for me as far as the aging was the slowing down, because as you know when you’re younger you move a lot quicker than you do when you’re older, so for me that was a bit of a challenge, and I think that was the only that really challenged me as far as the aging,” recalls Girard. “I’d played older men before so I had an idea on how to approach it, and Franklin’s direction on how the look would be achieved. Because when I see it I think ‘God, I look old!’”
Nichols had an even steeper learning curve as her character encounters health problems along the way. “Yeah, vulnerability is definitely the word for it, especially as in Act One she’s powerful and dynamic and muscular, and then I approached it through many conversations with Franklin and then working at home with a physicality with what she was going through. Then hair and makeup provided some external help, and then the cane really brought it all together for me. It was interesting because I had this funny story in my mind of Deena walking into work one day with a cane and Amos looking at her with a ‘What’s up with that?’ look and Deena just looking at him with this look that says ‘None of your fucking business.’ In my mind, she uses that cane but she dares anyone to ask her why. That was kind of fun to have in the back of my head.”
Ritch’s script is brilliant, and the evolution of Cherry is a thing to behold. I found myself so enraptured with the tone and breadth of this film, but I can see how it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. When I describe the film as “a deeply philosophical examination” I know many read “talky,” and you’re not wrong. The film is short on action, but in my opinion it suffers little from that omission. The concepts probed in this film are masterful, and they’re big questions that we will very likely have to start asking sooner rather than later. If we can create programming that is so aware that it can mimic humanity then it is a short distance for that programming to ask the most human question of all: what is my purpose?
THE ARTIFICE GIRL is available to watch in Theaters, On Digital, and On Demand now. I’d love to know what you think of it. Until next time, take care!
-McEric, aka Eric McClanahan-