Archive, written and directed by Gavin Rothery, takes on the moral quandrys of how far we’re willing to go for loved ones, even after they’ve passed on. In the year 2038, robots are a fixture in society, serving in households and as bodyguards. But they’re not even the shiny, new technology of the era — that would be the Archive, a complex computer system that mixes bio data and computer code to store one’s consciousness in a hard drive, even after death.
George Almore (Theo James) thinks he can do even better. After the death of his wife, Jules (Stacy Martin), George tests ways to put his wife’s consciousness into a robot, believing he can truly bring her back to life, creating J1 and J2. J1 walks around George’s bunker, doing various chores, with the equivalent of a 5 year old’s personality. J2, a 15 year old. Specifically, J1 and J2 have parts of Jule’s consciousness in their data, but George is working on a third, more advanced model, J3 — or, rather, Jules, herself.
Archive is a slick sci-fi character exploration of life after loss. James gives George many different levels of vulnerability but also how an obsessive one-track mind toward unethical experiments on cheating death can lead to a loss of things still there.
However, the film loses its focus in the third act. After creating a wonderful sense of paranoia and conflict between George, J1, J2, and the creation of J3, the third act pivots toward making a twist more important than resolving the conflicts from the earlier acts. It abadons a solid premise and structure for glossy and unnerving twists that feel unearned. A lot of effort goes into showing George creating J3, but once she’s completed, very little time is spent in watching her come to terms with her new life, both as J3 and the remnants of Jules. The film is heavily focused on George, who spends time in his bunker trying to keep things from falling apart, including his robots, even if he tends to neglect their feelings. Perhaps it would have been more fascinating and engaging to instead focus on J3 and Jules, and how a human conscious and computer data interacts as one. The focus on George creates an often seen fridging of female characters while the obsessed male characters are motivated to achieve a goal by that death. A refocus on the main character for Archive might have found further exploration into these ideas of live after death and loss.
Still, that doesn’t totally negate the interesting parts it manages to set up, particularly the relationship between J1, J2, and J3. Oftentimes, robot and AI films tend to be about how humans interact with them, and here, it’s largely the same. Archive does take a step to explore the feelings of robots and their relationships to each other, especially as iterations of the same consciousness.
With an incredible score by Steven Price, Archive has all of the right science fiction set ups and atmosphere, even if the dynamics are nothing new.