Review: Do Robots Pray? ‘The Creator’ Muses Faith, Spirituality in the Age of AI

Review: Do Robots Pray? ‘The Creator’ Muses Faith, Spirituality in the Age of AI September 26, 2023

In Gareth Edwards’ ambitious sci-fi epic, “The Creator,” humanity is once again torn between reliance and revulsion of artificial intelligence. John David Washington (“Tenet”) stars as Joshua, an undercover agent hunting rogue robots and haunted by the loss of his wife Maya (Gemma Chan). Driven to find the truth about her, he joins a new team mobilizing in AI-occupied New Asia seeking a rumored ultimate weapon that could turn the tide in the robot’s favor.

‘The Creator’ image courtesy of 20th Century Studios.

While the premise hearkens to “Terminator,” Edwards instead reveals a script that deals more soberly with loss, guilt and even redemption. “Are you going to heaven?” Alphie, a young robot girl, asks Joshua and he quickly responds “No, you gotta’ be a good person to go to heaven.” These themes of human weakness, corruption, and redemption continues to accentuate their relationship, with Joshua ultimately finding purpose and hope in being the child’s protector.

It isn’t Alphie alone musing on life after death, or “turning off” as Joshua calls it. Hordes of robots living in the villages hold rosaries and offer earnest prayers as the war rages on. They show concern and love for each other and their human family members (it’s explained that some of the robots took in children who were made orphans through the ravages of war). On the surface, AI seemed intent on erasing humankind, but as Joshua continues his journey, he finds the self-aware robots are not as different from humans as they seemed to be.

Could robots be programmed to hope for heaven? Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “Alien Resurrection” posed that question as Winona Ryder’s Annalee plugged into a Bible, to the surprise of Ripley. “The Creator” assumes the machines mentally evolve to a point where they consider their own shortcomings and weaknesses. Facing despair or hopelessness, would they, like us, turn to a higher power for comfort? This film assumes they would. If they care about each other and they care about their engineers, then they care about their engineers’ engineer.

When Alphie poses the question to Joshua, it’s a desire to be together forever, in a world where nothing, even pain or death, can separate them anymore. That’s the promise found in Revelation 21:4:

“‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Aside from its serious themes, “The Creator” is spectacular and visually stunning, picking up some hints from Edwards’ “Rogue One” history as well as the beloved classic “District 9.” It’s a lavish world the viewer can get lost in and characters they will continue to root for, or against. Leading the cast, Washington shines as Joshua along with newcomer Madeleine Yuna Voyles as the adorable Alphie. In addition to Chan, the film also stars Ken Watanabe, Sturgill Simpson, and Allison Janney.

Described by Edwards as a “fairy tale,” “The Creator” is a film that will please audiences looking for intense action but also themes that run deeper than the typical space-age adventure—compassion, redemption, hope, security, prejudice, redemption, and spirituality. It releases Friday from 20th Century Studios.

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