Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Not Your Average Sperm Donor

Based on its premise, I assumed Demon Seed was a kind of “Julie Christie gets raped and impregnated by a supercomputer” sorta flick. Something along the lines of the “there’s a little Native American medicine man growing on my neck!” absurdity of The Manitou

It’s actually really serious.

For someone who genuinely DIGS the kind of movies about, you know, Tony Curtis dancing in wizard garb and petite Native American muscle men shooting lasers, this is a slight disappointment.

Quick Plot: Dr. Alex Harris (Fritz Weaver) Is putting the finishing touches on Proteus 4, an advanced computer along the lines of Jeopardy!’s Watson. 

Back home, he’s about to move out of his techno paradise from his therapist wife Susan, played with all the typical class and grandeur of Julie Christie. The pair seem to still be in love, but the death of their daughter from leukemia and Alex’s increasing coldness and work obsession have driven a rift that calls for a trial separation.

Relax folks: Demon Seed isn’t Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf via The Sims.

Although now that I said that, I would LOVE to see a Who’s Afraid of Virginia Sims? 

Anyway, Susan is left alone to be cared for by the butler software (named Alfred, a cute touch). Before you can gasp some British colloquialism, Proteus 4 manages to infect the home system, locking down the estate and holding the lovely Susan prisoner…

To make computer babies.

Based on a Dean Koontz novel I haven’t read, Demon Seed flirts with some incredibly disturbing concepts. The idea of Susan essentially being raped—even if the actual impregnation is never taken sexually—and forced to bear someone else’s child is truly horrifying. No matter where your politics might fall, I think anyone would agree that what Proteus forces upon Susan—that is, giving birth to a completely new hybrid species--is wrong. It’s a violation of her right not just as a woman, but as a human being in control of her own body.

Unfortunately, Demon Seed doesn’t quite have enough confidence or care in the deeper implications of its premise to be truly interesting or thought-provoking. Sure, we get a groovy death scene involving a big techno-cube-thing and an excess of laser shooting, but most of the deeper questions seem to be skirted in favor of a more emotional, yet somehow emptier ending. It’s a shame, even if part of the end result calls to mind a mating of Chucky with Bicentennial Man. 

My point is, there's a fascinating film inside Demon Seed, one that flirts with ideas about reproductive rights, evolution, and the moral costs of technological advancement. I wish the film stayed on that course.

High Points
Remember that brilliant scene in Wayne’s World 2, where Mike Myers pleads with the camera to replace a bit role player with a better actor? Seeing an actress of Julie Christie’s caliber in the type of genre movie that on paper might seem silly easily elevates the material

Low Points
The aforementioned third act, that seems to lose its philosophical ambitions in favor of easier character-based closure

Lessons Learned
7:40 AM is the optimum time for morning fuel ingestion

Getting knocked up by a supercomputer can best be compared to dropping acid or watching a screensaver on loop

Never trust a computer that can’t remember how you drink your coffee

The Winning Line
“I have not had time to brainwash you, so listen carefully.”
Makes perfect sense to me!

Demon Seed falls in an odd place for me: it’s far better than any computer-impregnates-Julie-Christie movie should be, but it ultimately misses the mark on what could have been something utterly new and thought-provoking. That being said, it remains a curious taste of intellectual ‘70s sci-fi horror, similar in vein to the unique Phase IV. Sadly, the DVD is devoid of extras, a shame since this is clearly a film that merits discussion. Ah well. That’s what comment threads were made for.


  1. This is one of those movies, I keep meaning to watch but for one reason or another fail to make it happen.

    Will have to dig this out soon and finally watch it now, but thanks for the prior warnings, as may save some disapointment.

  2. It's not bad by any means (and that might even be it's problem). Worth a watch, just not an immediate watch. After all, it IS still a Julie Christie Gets Impregnated By a Supercomputer movie. It's just not a fun Julie Christie Gets Impregnated By a Supercomputer movie.

  3. I'm definitely checking this one out!

  4. Can't wait to hear your thoughts Ashlee!

  5. I've been meaning to comment on this for ages...My problem with it was this: it's a total relic of its time. The thing has pretensions out the wazoo: "This is not a movie about a woman being raped by a's art." There are odd psychedelic passages which don't add anything.

    But I'll give it one thing: Julie Christie takes the entire movie seriously. She doesn't camp it up or act down to the material. That might make the movie a bit more affective...but not much.

    Mostly, I just think it's weird that this movie exists in the first place.

  6. Christie is great, although I'd expect no less. Her and Charlotte Rampling belong in that very specific category of intelligent and sexy superwomen from that era.

    For me, it was the ending that killed it. I just feel like there's so much territory to be explored, but the film ultimately kind of backed out with making it be about their late child. I wanted more computer rape superhuman stuff, I guess.

  7. Proteus IV has such a lovely, strange, bass, sexy voice. He's so powerful and mysterious. I would have been happy to bear his child, instead of resisting stupidly.

  8. We've all got our type I guess!