Sightlines: Filmmaking in the Academy Issue 4 2022
Golems Inc: Screenplay
Max Gee: Author
Title of Work: Golems Inc
Golems Inc explores the ways storytelling is used as a defining feature of what it means to be human in posthuman noir science fiction.
The subgenre posthuman noir can be summarised as: a screen text set in a future with posthuman technology which uses multiple tropes of traditional film noir—aesthetics, structures, characters and themes—to validate the human qualities of emotional awakening and storytelling as crucial for survival (Gee 2016). Although the screen texts within this subgenre touch on transhumanism and posthumanism, they ultimately privilege anthropocentric human qualities of emotion and storytelling.
Humans are story machines (Boyd 2009; Schank 2000). The multifaceted way that humans use storytelling—including to make sense of the world around them; to construct and project their identities, and to interact and connect with others—provide the points of departure for Golems Inc. I examine how a posthuman character could employ storytelling abilities to successfully pretend to be, or simulate being, human (Baudrillard 1981). Despite their synthetic nature, they come to be considered more human than the human characters in the screenplay. The structure of the screenplay follows film noir narrative pattern of voice over recollection and flashback, thus the narration within the script is an expression of Roz’s storytelling ability. In using tales such as The Golem of Prague, I examine the problematic nature of othering as the figure of the posthuman has occupied the space of the Other (Haraway 1985).
This screenplay is also a reaction to the way this subgenre genders robots as female, then presents these posthumans as objects of sexual gratification (Wosk 2015). In Golems Inc, the robot protagonist, Roz, changes their physical appearance, shifting between genders. Drawing from Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto (1985) and N. Katherine Hayles (1999), Golems Inc blurs boundaries of human/non-human, male/female to explore a future where what is human is not defined solely by the flesh but a combination of an emotional embodied experience and self-awareness driven by storytelling impulses. In contrast to Roz, Marcin, the homme fatal, gender flips stereotypes of sexualised female robots to challenge these representations.
I figure my practice in a feedback loop of knowledge gained and knowledge disseminated (Smith and Dean 2009). I used writing this screenplay as a conduit to both gain new insights into posthuman noir and pass on information about what it is to be human, as well as my understanding of myself as human/potentially posthuman. As a cyborg-screenwriter, I engage in a network of human—cast and crew—and non-human—Final Draft computer software, cameras, post-production software—players.
Screenplays are nodes in the posthuman filmmaking network that exists on the cusp of becoming film (Deleuze and Guattari 1987). Thus, screenwriting creative practice is an apt method for this research. Through figuring the screenplay as a posthuman text evolving towards becoming-film, and through channelling myself as a cyborg-screenwriter, my creative practice — an expression of the human storytelling ability which aims to generate an emotional awakening in the reader—mirrors the themes around these essential human traits within the subgenre.
Baudrillard, Jean. 1994. The Precession of the Simulacra in Simulacra and Simulation. Translated by Sheila Faria Glaser. University of Michigan Press.
Boyd, Brian. 2009. On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition and Fiction. Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England: Harvard University Press.
Deleuze, Gilles, and Guattari, Felix. 2008 A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. Continuum
Gee, Max. 2016. “Rediscovering our Humanity – How the posthuman noir anime, Darker Than Black, subverts the tropes of film noir to reaffirm a humanist agenda.” Cinema: Journal of Film and Philosophy. 7:131-148.
Haraway, Donna. 2004. “The Cyborg Manifesto” in The Haraway Reader. Routledge.
Hayles, N. Katherine. 1999. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics. University of Chicago Press.
Hayles, N. Katherine. 2004. “Print is Flat, Code is Deep: The Importance of Media Specific Analysis.” Poetics Today. 25:1, 67-90.
Schank, Roger C. 2000. Tell Me A Story: Narrative and Intelligence. Northwestern University Press.
Smith, Hazel and Roger Dean. 2009. Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice in the Creative Arts. Edinburgh University Press.
Wosk, Julie 2015. Female Robots, Androids and Other Artificial Eves. Rutgers University Press.
PEER REVIEW 1
This work/research creates a harmonious combination of research induced creativity and a meta reflection of the screenwriting craft. It triggers a conversation on the human need to tell stories from an innovative point of view that not only integrates the practice and intention of the screenwriter but also presents a clear picture of how it is embodied in a dramatic character.
This research verbalizes the ubiquitous argument that “human-like telling stories” that, in spite of its popularity, is seldom used to conduct academic research linked to the actual practice of screenwriting. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the script as an entertaining, professional and well-structured narrative work, just as the expression and result of screenwriting research. The theoretical principles stated by the researcher/author are visible through the selection of genre, character creation and themes constantly stated by lines of dialogue and atmosphere. There is an evident contextualization to the theoretical principles of posthumanism as quoted by the author “human qualities of emotional awakening and storytelling as crucial for survival” (Gee 2016). The interest of the author in posthumanism and its connection to emotional awakening provides for the basis of characters’ creation and themes. This applies specifically to the main character “Roz Valiant”, an android disguising as a human. She shares the ability to affect other androids by telling stories, an attribute shared by Marcin a self-aware android like herself.
I believe that by creating a human character that embodies both qualities of emotional awakening and storytelling, the author not only effectively contextualizes the theoretical principles of posthumanism, but also offers a method of character creation, contributing to the screenwriting theory in terms of practice, but also in terms of creation. This is mainly in terms of Character Arc. It seems Roz’ journey is to become finally more human than human, or at least to realize she has been human all along. Her coding is overridden in the climactic scene of the script. She has displayed, so far, the qualities of storytelling and emotional awakening, feeling more human than other true humans, but without being able to embrace it. When Roz overrides his coding, it seems to me that she reached a higher state of humanity and she finally unleashed the dormant humanity inside her. This works for a perfect metaphor of what consists of being human.
The script also evidences the themes of the research in lines of dialogue, by clearly stating the theme in powerful statements like “at the end of the story Gregor wasn’t really living anymore. There is more to be alive than just being” (p.84). Also, the key to the coding overriding in the climax scene in which Roz registered herself as “more human”, raising interesting philosophical questions about what it means to be human and what it takes for someone to reach the “humanity” level. Is humanity not available for everyone?
Definitely, this script is a solid creative work and also a fine example of practice-based research. It contributes to areas of research, posthumanism and dramatic/narrative structures.
PEER REVIEW 2
The research statement for this screenplay states its intention to explore “the ways storytelling is used as a defining feature of what it means to be human in posthuman noir science fiction.” This is an ambitious target, but some deft characterisation and interrogation of roles make that exploration constructive.
Golems Inc suggests a future in which technology has pacified humans – instead of listening and responding to each other, robots (golems) now listen to our sad stories and electronically drain our neuroses into their own circuits until their brains are fried and have to be replaced. Human survival is based, as one character says, on the suicide of the golems. Sacrifice or scapegoating fit this model, and they are recurrent aspects of storytelling. Thanks to golems, humans exist as happy, quiescent subjects of the biopolitical state. Since Auschwitz and Hiroshima demonstrated that technology’s belligerent forces would in future be targeted principally at civilians, stories have explored fears of technology turning against us (e.g. The Matrix) or, perhaps more ominously, becoming like and surpassing us (e.g. Bladerunner). Such is Roz, the protagonist of this work, a robot so advanced that she is unidentifiable as non-human, except by her exceptional dexterity and intelligence. Unlike many posthuman noir stories, Roz is in this case the protagonist, a sympathetic character whom we cheer on against the greedy human corporates. That is quite an achievement.
The setting of this work is Prague, a centre of Gothic noir architecture, and the birthplace of Franz Kafka, whose story Metamorphosis, about the sudden loss of subjectivity and the brutality of becoming less than human, is used by Roz as the melancholia that fries the brains of the golems before they are renewed in the workshop. Prague was also the setting for the legend of the Golem, a man built of clay and brought to life to protect the beleaguered Jewish community of the city. The author skillfully intertwines these stories to examine the nature of human subjectivity and how it can be easily denied or manipulated by those in charge of the technology. In the limited number of words allowed by a screenplay, clever use is made of intertextual references such as the golem supplier “Capek Corporation” (the name of the inventor of the word “robot”) and the setting of Meyrink Square, named after the writer of the novel The Golem.
The story is compelling and would doubtlessly make an enthralling movie but, as a research artefact, I believe this script can stand alone as a valuable contribution to the study of posthuman writing generally and the film noir genre as envisioned. At the heart of the research is the question of narrative story. The author proposes that, while post- or trans-humanism are important to the genre, the key attribute is “anthropocentric human qualities of emotion and storytelling.” Telling stories is a peculiarly human idiosyncrasy. Other animals communicate, particularly swarm animals like bees, who describe in dance the route to the best flowers, but they deal only in truth. While stories have followed us from the earliest campsites, the use of electronic technology to alert or appease others originates just over a century ago with radio, followed by film and television, and today the ubiquitous multimedia with which we are constantly surrounded. Each new advance has been deplored as an assault on our sociality, none more so than the Internet, which offers instant communication, while allowing solitary anonymity. With our computers, tablets, modems and phones, we are all part-cyborg now. What if technology can tell stories better than ours? Or as this script also asks, what if robots could take away negative emotions – would what was left still be human? And would a thinking, emotional robot be any less human than what Foucault called these “docile subjects”? These are the research questions that this script powerfully confronts.
I would firstly like to thank my two peer reviewers for their thoughtful analysis of my work. It is encouraging that both understood, and could see, my research intentions in the screenplay and that my research statement provided enough provocation/contextualisation to approach the work. I am glad that both reviewers commented on how the form of practice spoke to the research as well as the content. This aspect is particularly important to me as a researcher. In a similar manner, I am pleased that the tool of intertextuality, which I used in the screenplay to embed different notions of subjectivity and place the work within the history of the location and posthuman discourse, was effective.
There are a couple of points I would like to address as they have sparked ideas for future research, which is what is exciting about the peer review process.
Firstly, I would like to pick up on notions of gender and gendered language. When writing about posthuman characters that are neither male nor female but could appear as either male or female it is hard to maintain gender-neutral pronouns in my native language, English, where the binary male/female is prevalent. Language and culture is something I could examine in future work. I found it interesting that one of the reviewers shifted their pronoun choice for the protagonist, Roz, as Roz themselves shifts from appearing female to male to female. This sparked some new ideas for me to continue exploring this aspect in relation to posthuman characters.
The second point I want to explore further is the idea of truth in human and non-human storytelling. One of the reviewers brought this up in relation to how swarm creatures use narrative, such as dance, to convey information, whereas humans do not always tell stories to give facts or convey the truth. This is especially fascinating in relation to the genre of film noir and previous examples of posthuman characters who cannot lie. There is definitely an avenue of future enquiry to be made here; thank you for that thought-provoking comment.
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