Sci-fi thriller Morgan, which hits theatres this Friday, marks the directorial debut of Luke Scott and takes a look at what happens when an artificially created humanoid being, genetically altered and DNA enhanced, begins to think and act out on its own.
The plot explores some touchy moral areas about creating synthetic life, as it focuses on an AI named Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) who grows to young adulthood in just five years and begins to realize her strengths and her need to have more freedom, which leads to an attack on one of the scientists who created her.
The big guns funding the “experiment” send in a corporate risk-management consultant, Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), to decide whether or not to terminate the “project.” Problem is, the scientists have grown fond of Morgan and think of her as a young woman rather than an “it” and so try to justify her actions as well as thwart Lee’s efforts to gain the truth. Things inevitably escalate and soon, everyone realizes that they’ve underestimate exactly what Morgan is capable of.
At the recent press day for Morgan in LA, we sat down with Scott for a very engaging conversation about the science behind the film, what he wanted to accomplish with it and about how his father, the iconic director Ridley Scott, influenced him.
You did a lot of research on this and asked some probing questions. What did you find out?
Luke Scott: I found out that we’re there. We know how to do it. We have the technology for this. It’s just the morality of it, the ethics of it, that are keeping it under control. The reading I’ve done on it is pretty incredible though, on what is potentially possible with this stuff.
Who do you think is spearheading it? Military, scientists?
Scott: What it is is a curiosity, isn’t it? I go back to the conversation I had with my professor. At first, he was very uncomfortable because ethically, it’s a nightmare. Now, if you look at the reason [Robert] Oppenheimer developed the bomb, and these genius minds sitting there, they don’t quite understand what they are making. They know what they are doing, to a certain extent, but they don’t what the effect is when they do it.
When they blow it up at the Trinity site, for the first time… it was like, “Ohhh.” And they know one bomb has already gone to South Pacific to be put together to drop on Japan. The realization and cold light of day revealed to these geniuses that what they are doing is playing with fire.
Which leads right into the consequences of creating artificial intelligence…
Scott: It’s a really complex conversation I’ve been trying to have in four minutes. I’ve been looking at this stasis in human evolution. For god knows how many hundred thousand years or so, we’ve been pretty much the same. We haven’t evolved. It’s weird. The only thing that has evolved is our manipulation of technology and manipulation of nature. And our roads have led to this point in the present, where I call the technological cave, and it is really coming into its own. So our desire to fly close to the Sun, to reach the Heaven on these towers, to become our own gods, that drive and ambition, is also our undoing. I love that idea, that the hubris is going to bring the fall.
In Morgan, the scientist, played by Toby Jones, is so wrapped up in his accomplishment he doesn’t see the dangers, right?
Scott: Sadly, he finally realizes where he’s at, the destroyer of worlds. The tragedy of Morgan is that it is a success. This is the shape of success, this is the wages of it. But this is the wonderful perversity of this kind of idea. Like in Frankenstein, as the creator knows, as you become God and assume this role, it’s our end. That will be your end, that the hubris bring you down. It always stands to reason. But you look at the world, this is such an oft repeated idea. As we drill for oil and consume more, as our populations grow, as we develop more efficient weapons, as we spend more money… it goes on and on.
Did you intentionally want to make Morgan a female?
Scott: I asked myself the question: If I were a scientist, how would I make Morgan? I didn’t want to make a monster movie, but I also didn’t want some fit guy with ripped muscles. Nor did I want some girl with pneumatic breasts and fuller figure, not Amazonian either. I wanted somebody who was vulnerable, that you could relate to. A kid. And the word I was working with was “otherworldly.” And Anya [Taylor-Joy] is otherworldly, isn’t she? That’s not to say Anya isn’t feminine because she’s very feminine, but she is otherworldly. And she’s a good enough actor to amplify that aspect, that side of her.
As a side tangent, did you read that they’ve found an Earth-like planet orbiting a star closest to our Sun?
Scott: I did, but unfortunately, and this flies in the face of The Martian, I just don’t think deep-space travel is possible for the human beings. I think we’re stuck here. Deep-space travel offers a possibility, but to a human, as we know it, the further we get from this planet, the physical form begins to decay. Just that physical stress of spending that length of time in space. There are things on this planet called human resonances which basically gives life to the quartz crystal that runs your watch. These are things that are geotropic to all organisms that live on this Earth. That they are all tuned in to these radio frequencies, resonances – and as you move away from it, that life force doesn’t connect. They start to fall apart.
That actually makes sense. Your dad might disagree with you, but…
Scott: Oh, I know. I’ve had this conversation with him. I wrote a script for a short film called Loom that is all about that, a disintegration of a Martian community. They realize they can’t live there because they are out of tune.
Speaking of your dad [who is one of Morgan’s producers], was there a moment growing up that you realized you wanted to be a director like him?
Scott: Oh sure. My first experience as a child was doing lots of commercials, eating lots of chocolate. Drinking milk, eating cereal. The first movie was The Duellists. He put me and my brother in that, playing various kids, in all sorts of costumes. It was a beautiful movie but it was the first time I thought, “here we are in this Napoleonic era, with costumes, horses and oh my god, this is fantastic!” The second one was Alien. Again, he puts us in it. He gave me, my brother and this other kid space suits, and these were two thirds the size of an adult. It was a good reason to do it to make the sets look bigger.
So we’re walking around in space [the scene in which they are outside on the planet, heading towards the downed alien spaceship sending out the distress signal]. That was fun. Then I was in the cutting room for Blade Runner. A 14-year-old, winding film and making tea and coffee for Terry Rawlings, watching this film come to life. These are great experiences I was fortunate enough to have and I recognize it. As I got older and more and more access to this kind of thing, and I started working in all seriousness, it was like, yeah. And my dad is a great educator. I do second unit stuff with him, and I still learn shit from him. The layers and level of detail. And that stuff you only get through observation of a process.
That concludes our interview, but we’d like to thank Luke very much for his time. Be sure to check out Morgan when it hits theatres this Friday!