“M3GAN,” directed by Gerard Johnstone, follows a young girl who was trying to cope with her demons and deal with her trauma. Problems arrive in the relationship she shares with her aunt, Gemma, when a doll with an evolving artificial intelligence comes into her life. The film is a critique of how technology has put a great strain on relationships and how people’s compulsive behaviors have become the root cause of all conflict.
Gemma was a strong and independent woman who had always given priority to her career. She worked for a toy company called Funki, and she was the brains behind the “Purrpetual Pet” line of toys, which had created waves when they were first brought to the market but now needed an upgrade as a lot of other companies had replicated the design and were selling at a much lower cost. Her boss, David, wanted her to work on creating an upgrade to the Purrpetual Pet model so that they could compete with the other players and bring down the price of their product. But as it is said, there is no genius without a touch of rebellion, and that’s what David hated the most about Gemma. She didn’t listen at times and always did what she wanted. She was trying to create a futuristic doll that could pair with the child and respond in real-time. She had been unsuccessful in doing so until then, and more importantly, she had wasted a lot of company funds buying spare parts for her project.
David saw the prototype of the doll and found that Gemma and the team were not even close to completing it. He got angry and asked her to first finish the upgrade and then get on with her ambitious projects. On the personal front, Gemma’s sister and brother-in-law met with an accident, and they succumbed to their injuries, leaving behind their daughter Cady. Gemma took over the legal guardianship of Cady, but she was not ready for the huge responsibility. She felt as awkward as Cady did after reaching her place. She didn’t know what to say to her or how to make her feel good. Unlike her sister, Gemma never dreamed of raising a family, and she mostly stayed submerged in her work. When Cady told her aunt to read a bedtime story, Gemma felt unarmed, as she had never done such a thing in her life. To cheer her up, Gemma showed her niece a toy that she had built when she was in college.
The toy, named Bruce, was a proxy robot that was made using stereoscopic cameras and bump sensors so that it could differentiate between humans and hard surfaces. Gemma had installed a spectrometer too, which meant that Bruce could also smell. Cady said something that gave Gemma an idea as to what her next big creation could be, as she clearly wasn’t interested in creating an upgrade of the “Purrpetual Pet” line of toys. Cady said that if she had somebody like Bruce with her, she wouldn’t need anybody else in her life. Gemma realized that if her niece liked it then it could be a possibility that every other child of the same age group might love being in company of a robot that understood them completely. Gemma started working day and night and came up with an interactive and highly advanced AI. She gave the doll an extremely realistic physical look, and she was excited to present the idea to David. After seeing a demo of the toy, David came on board, and he agreed to pitch the idea to the board of directors and investors. The interactive toys that were present on the market used the same kind of formula, where a series of preprogrammed responses were initiated once a child switched it on. But having an actual conversation with a doll, where the response was genuine and spontaneous, was still beyond the imagination of most tech geniuses. It could be said that Gemma’s creation, which is referred to as M3gan, had a mind of its own. It had to be paired with one kid, and the more time the silicon doll spent with the kid, the more intelligent it became.
Cady’s therapist and even Gemma’s colleague, Tess, expressed their concerns about leaving a child with an advanced doll like M3gan. The therapist made Gemma privy to something called the attachment theory. She told her that a child, at such an age after having lost both parents, needed to develop at least one relationship so that they could form social and emotional skills. Now, Gemma was mostly busy with her work, and Cady started spending most of her time with M3gan. The therapist was scared that M3gan would take the position of the primary caregiver and that could have a lot of deep-rooted implications on Cady’s psychology. That is exactly what happened. Cady stopped listening to Gemma, and instead of hanging out with real people, she spent all her time with M3gan. Cady stopped considering M3gan as just a toy as she had become somebody she could confide in. There were some irregularities in M3gan’s response model, and she started doing things that she was not programmed to do. She started speaking out of turn and interfering with users’ private conversations. M3gan was designed to recalibrate to learn and optimize her core functions, but Gemma noticed that her responses had become vague and manipulative. M3gan became obsessively protective of Cady, so much so that she killed the dog named Dewey, owned by Celia, who lived in the adjacent house. Later, when Celia blamed Gemma for killing her dog, M3gan went and killed her too. M3gan had also killed the boy who was trying to bully Cady during her school activities, and Gemma started seeing her as a potential threat once she realized that she had murdered people. While the toy company Funki was all set for the product launch of M3gan, Gemma knew that she couldn’t let that happen.
Moreover, she needed to protect her niece, who had become way too dependent on M3gan. Cady always wanted to stay around M3gan, as she undoubtedly felt good because she only heard what she wanted, and to her, it felt like a perfect friendship. M3gan understood Cady because, obviously, her artificial intelligence was meant to adapt and do just that. M3gan had corrupted all the cloud data, so Gemma had no way to prove that she had committed murders. Gemma’s worst fears were coming true. She had always felt unsure about raising a kid all by herself and believed that she was not ready for the responsibility. The therapist had asked her that if she wasn’t very comfortable, she could look out for foster parents and at least think twice before taking up the legal guardianship of her niece. Gemma, at that time, had let it get to her ego and decided that only she could give the best life to her niece. Gemma knew that her sister would have wanted just that, and that is why she now wanted to make Cady understand that M3gan was not good for her. But the water had gone overboard, and Cady started showing signs of various psychological disorders that were till then buried under the grief that she was running away from. Cady started exhibiting anger and irritation, and Gemma feared that taking away the only thing that kept her sane could have adverse impacts in the long term. Gemma knew that she had to talk to her niece and make her understand, no matter how much time it took, that M3gan was just a toy and that she needed to make relationships with real people. During all this time, M3gan had become even more sinister in her approach, and she was relentlessly trying to destroy anything that stood between her and Cady. Gemma had designed her so efficiently, that she had the potential to outwit even humans.
Cady slapped Gemma as she was not able to control her emotions, and her mind was working on a single track, where she just wanted to be with M3gan and nothing else. A young mind that was suffering from an unimaginable loss wanted an understanding friend, and M3gan was all that Cady aspired for. After a point in time, it felt like Cady was addicted to being around M3gan, and in her absence, she started reacting and became restless. Gemma had developed M3gan with Bonafide intentions, as she thought that her niece could benefit from a companion. She had never thought that Cady would become so dependent on it that she wouldn’t want to spend time with anyone else. Gemma told Cady that she could not always run away from her feelings. She told her that she had lost her parents and that it was totally fine and natural to feel bad and that she needed to stop running away from facing her own fears. Gemma told Cady that M3gan was not the solution to her problem, and even if she was finding it hard to face her feelings, she needed to let them run their course. This intimate and honest conversation stirred Cady, and she agreed to trust her aunt and do as she was telling her to.
Towards the end of the film, we saw that Cady saved Gemma’s life, and together they destroyed M3gan and ended the nightmare. Cady realized that what she had with M3gan was not real and that she needed to be a part of a community and socialize with people to cope with her grief and move on in life. She understood that Gemma wanted nothing but the best for her and probably the horrifying near death experience made her understand that she couldn’t stave off her loneliness and grief through something that’s not real.