You are a dirty manipulation of natural elements.
There’s something endearing about a company manufacturing impossibly realistic “e-mates” (robotic companions programmed to be subordinate to your every whim whether task-driven, intellectual, or sexual) having a lo-fi TV-spot with 90s internet graphics and over-the-top infomercial testimonials from people stopped on the street. They’ve spent so much research and development on creating the perfect artificial human that it doesn’t matter if the screensaver on their in-house computers is a pixelated logo bouncing back and forth. The product literally sells itself by providing humans an outlet to fulfill their basest desires without the consequence of hurt feelings, embarrassment, or fatigue. Their creator Maxwell (Dean Cain) only has to massage potential customers’ preconditioned notions of the constructs we’ve let stand-in for reality to see the magic for themselves.
While those cheesy adverts set a comical tone (along with the classical music cues lending a off-balanced lilt to the otherwise dramatic proceedings), Princeton Holt‘s 2050 isn’t a farcical look at a future where men and women look for a no-strings-attached romp before heading back home to the spouse and children. There’s actually a lot more going on beneath the surface to render the complex thought-process of starting a relationship with a robot paramount to what the physical union entails. Screenwriter Brian Ackley (from a story by Holt and David Vaughn) ensures this look behind the curtain of our psyches by putting his lead Michael Greene (Vaughn) in a position to both analyze the ramifications and enjoy the spoils despite the very real consequences doing so guarantees.
He’s a not-so-happily married father of two who can’t help provoking a snarky bitch-fest with his wife Brooke (Irina Abraham) whenever they find themselves alone and in need of entertainment. While a successful videogame designer, he’s quite prejudiced against “e-mates.” Michael calls them “sex-bots” in agreement with Brooke because to them it’s wholly unnatural to believe someone could receive his/her necessary human connection from an inanimate object. It’s personal too considering her brother Drew’s (Devin Fuller) ex-girlfriend Diana (Jace Nicole) dumped him because she fell in love with just such a “thing” (Jonathan Ercolino‘s Cameron). So Michael is shocked upon discovering his brother-in-law decided to rebound with an “e-mate” (Stormi Maya‘s Quin) of his own. Freaked out or not, though, this proximity to one does intrigue him.
Where Holt’s film goes is what makes this story rise above any budgetary constraints to provoke important conversations. That’s not to say he couldn’t have taken things even further with a more focused political commentary that transcended polyamory towards pansexuality (a couple interactions broach it at the end), but I get the desire to stop short and simply allude to the possibility. While that’s the logical endgame and where post-screening talk should ultimately arrive at, what’s onscreen supplies the complex framework that leads us there. But it’s not just because Michael inevitably falls for his own “e-mate” (Stefanie Bloom‘s Sophia). As he moves away from his marriage to seek what’s missing sexually, Drew travels in the opposite direction. He realizes he craves the human connection Quin can’t deliver.
Suddenly everything we assumed was setup to be about replacement washes away to expose augmentation. Rather than make these robotic slaves a means to capitalize on our steady devolution towards technologically reliant existences that erase face-to-face interactions and build invisible walls between us, they become a reminder of what we’re missing. Quin’s objective to satisfy Drew at all times forces him into complacency because there will never be a challenge with which his response would be to compromise or change. She reminds him of everything he neglected and took for granted with Diana. And on the flipside, all the frustration and projected anger Michael unjustly put upon Brooke washes away with Sophia in his arms. His selfishness becomes replaced with an altruism his wife hasn’t seen in years.
That’s not to say their trajectories are perfect considering what we see is very much two men having their cake and eating it too, but I do believe the value in the journey outweighs the unavoidably smarmy optics. I would have liked more of the open-mindedness and message-driven enlightenment delivered by Diana at the end because her viewpoint is where this becomes more than simply a male gaze fantasy. Her monologue is therefore crucial to the whole if all too brief to stop us from ignoring the problematic actions of the men. The same goes for a shoehorned subplot concerning Brooke that arrives from seemingly nowhere to render Michael with more sympathy than he might deserve. These women are secondary to the story yet key to the themes.
As for the “e-mates,” Holt does well to ensure they always feel artificial despite the human characters being quick to fall prey to their overt deception. This isn’t Blade Runner where people want the robots to look and feel imperceptible. No, this world instead seeks to know definitively that they aren’t. 2050 is about us as a species right now and how we’ve detached ourselves from humanity with smartphones and the internet. These “e-mates” are thus positioned on that same level of entertainment, research, and experiential tools with janky motions and unfeeling eyes programmed for compliance. They’re nothing without their user and provide an escape precisely because they’re fake—a distinction that allows those users to see just how good and necessary the “real” truly is.
Traversing that landscape is far from easy and both Michael and Drew make a ton of missteps, but the psychology of their journey makes it worthwhile. Would I fault anyone for saying things unfold as though to say we all need to shirk monogamy and have an affair in order to remind ourselves why we love our significant other as much as we do? No. That’s all definitely here. To simply dismiss it because of that surface notion, however, is to ignore the slippery slope of where we are going as a population ruled by new technological advancements everyday. Using “sex-bots” to explore this may lend crudeness to the whole, but it also gets to the heart of desire versus love and our current state of perpetual over-stimulation.