Androids, robots with human attributes, have featured in movies in a whole variety of forms, from the Evil Maria in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis through to Gort in The Day the Earth Stood Still, the loveable Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet, the vindictive Hal in 2001, space-butler C-3PO in Star Wars and its sequels, the eponymous Terminator, the cyborg Robocop, the wistful young orphan David in A.I., the terminally depressive Marvin in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Samantha in Spike Jonze’s Her, Ava in Ex-Machina and we could also toss Frankenstein, Blade Runner and plenty more into the mix as well. In all of these, the humour, drama or menace derives from the major differences between human and android behaviour, they may look like us, but to what extent do they think like us and what does it say about us that we’ve created them in the first place?
‘Ha:Na’s’ writer and director Isadora Verissimo takes these well-used themes and rejigs them into an arty short film that is a cross between Lynn Ramsey and Terence Malick if either of them had decided to make a sci-fi genre film. In previous incarnations, Artificial intelligence is often seen as dangerous, or a threat to the human race but not in this case, there is nothing remotely threatening about the technology on show, in fact, we learn that it is not actually computers that are the issue here, it’s the humans around them who cause all of the problems.
From the opening shots of Ha:Na (a wonderfully understated Christin Muuli), we are made to feel that not all is right with her. She seems distant, innocently naïve and emotionless. Despite living with her partner in a large house she is lonely and out of sync with the rest of the world. She gently dances to music but doesn’t seem to feel it and is quite content to simply lie down in silence, keep her own company and stare at the world around her from the safety of her own garden taking pictures. These scenes are all intercut with flashbacks to a laboratory where we see ‘Ha:Na’ undergoing all sorts of tests and trials comprising of word association and flashcards, which we assume this is teaching her how to talk, think, feel and act.
We are never told who Ha:Na was before or who she is now, all we are shown is that Ha:Na is in the exact same position as the audience; she is desperately searching for answers and trying to figure out her place in the world. The cinematography by Tina Tran remains bleak and dark throughout the 14 minutes run time, with occasional moments of brightness in the garden and a particularly grimy red in a nightclub scene. Her camera roams around the large house yet manages to make it feel much smaller and more confined as if we are all stuck inside with Ha:Na. When she eventually leaves the residence to go to a nightclub the camera shows us yet another confined space symbolising that even when free Ha:Na still remains trapped.
Muuli’s performance remains strong throughout the short and there is a seductive appeal to her innocence. When this innocence is shattered later on, the fact that Ha:Na is unable to show any emotion about it, leaves the audience feeling far more unsettled and uncomfortable than they otherwise would.
The score is used quite sporadically, but when it is heard, along with interesting sound design, it helps to give the film a strange and curiously detached feel that is perfect for the subject matter on show.
Verissimo’s Ha:Na leaves you with a feeling of uncertainty about the morals in messing with humans and robots and then asks us to think that if this ever became a reality, how many higher forms of intelligence will be walking among us? How would we know? And what happens if they all decided to fight back?