A French comedy sci-fi movie hits Netflix with futuristic settings. Taking place in 2045, the world represented in the film is nothing like we know it. Life includes generations of androids, flying cars, cloning, home automation and an upgraded version of the Amazon Alexa. How do things translate when so much of our lives has been handed to technology? Is this another robots-take-over-humans movie? These are some of the questions posed in “BigBug.”
For the most part, “BigBug,” which was released by Netflix on Feb. 11, takes place in a 2045-retro-designed house in France. The colors are bright, everything is as neat and tidy as it can be and a series of androids coexist with humans. The story begins when Alice (Elsa Zylberstein), the head of the house, astonishes her guest, Max (Stéphane De Groodt), with her collection of books. They are “old” and “rare.” Writing materializes through some sort of calligraphy that only Alice takes part in. She tells Nestor, a virtual assistant voice connected to the house, to open the door. Her ex-husband, Victor (Youssef Hajdi), and his girlfriend, Jennifer (Claire Chust), come in to drop off the ex-couple’s daughter, 17-year-old Nina (Marysole Fertard), to leave for a couple’s trip to fantasy island Isola Paradiso. Alice’s neighbor, Françoise (Isabelle Nanty), joins the party. That’s when a big traffic jam pushes the automatic machines of the house – Monique (Claude Perron), Einstein (André Dussollier) and Decker – to deny all access to leave the house. The pile-up, caused by the Yonyx (the latest generation robots in charge of the administration), created high outdoor insecurity. With the reception off and armored poly-pane windows that resist any object from breaking through, this peculiar blend of characters is forced to stay together and share a common space, promising to induce a raucous clash.
Because of the new eco-law, turning on the AC requires ministerial approval. A surge in requests has saturated the service, which soon leads the characters to put up with an intolerable temperature. As they have places to be, the heavy heat adds to everyone’s nerves, which had already been on edge. Here, we have a direct correlation with a current issue, namely climate change. The movie gives a follow-up to the frequent heatwaves the world has undergone these past few years (globally, 2020 is jointly the warmest year on record together with 2016). Nina, who was adopted when rising seas flooded the Netherlands, legitimately symbolizes an “environmental refugee.”
On another note, a virtual screen projection “triconnects on its own,” making way for alarming propaganda. A Yonyx robot (François Levantal) affirms, “Yonyx, the future of humanity.” Excerpts of “Homo Ridiculus,” a show where humans are enslaved, ridiculed and tortured by robots, are broadcast throughout the movie. The ensemble feels like something’s off; the tension escalates, slowly but tortuously. Created to make life easier, the Yonyx becomes a threat. Among the disturbing sequences, a commercial showing two Yonyx having human foie gras stands out.
Further, the choice of staging a corrida and a circus spectacle with humans instead of animals in the frame of “Homo Ridiculus” is a nod to the way human beings have been treating animals. Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (who made “Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain” and “Alien 4”), wished to switch up the roles so that the characters and viewers take notice of their own actions. The metaphor indicated is that humans might very much end up becoming the pet animals of the androids they create as payback. The director also manifests his love for animals through the absence of meat (except for the foie gras scene). Along the same lines of the environmental issue – in which meat consumption is responsible for releasing greenhouse gasses, the characters have crickets, boiled eggs and worm cake.
It should be noted that a clear distinction is to be made within the machines. While the Yonyx are progressively overthrowing mankind, the androids of the household aren’t driven by the same motives. The reason why they won’t unlock the house is that they desire to protect the human characters at all cost. Their main goal is to be loved by them and so, they try to act as human as they can so that the actual humans don’t reject them.
The Yonyx are described as “pure intelligence.” Notwithstanding, to césar-winner Jeunet, imagination is the key point that allows humans to get ahead of robots. Faithfully to his previous works, the French director uses imagination as a way to unfold the plot of “BigBug.” It is certainly appropriate in such a movie, as humans come up with unexpected moves that smoothly outrun robots.
One of the most intriguing elements of the movie is how viewers don’t know for sure who the “bad guys” are. They can sense, though, that robots are not to be trusted. Human characters are the ones they feel connected to, which entices them to side with them. However, the movie brilliantly challenges that instinct.
Covid-19 is another ongoing issue that is tackled in “Big Bug.” As a French person myself, I remember when the virus first emerged, we [French people] stopped greeting each other with the customary kiss on the cheek. Instead, to make it Covid-friendly, we started greeting each other with an elbow bump, which was squeezed into the movie when Max greets Nina. The famous injunction “Stay home,” is then articulated on the news, when everything — from automobile traffic, garbage collection to first responders and vehicle charging stations — came to a standstill. What is intensely striking is that when Jeunot wrote the scenario, Covid was not yet circulating. Visionary much?
To make their ascension to power easier, the Yonyx administration eventually bans books. Following the entrance of a Yonyx in the house, it destroys all of Alice’s books. This is a method as old as time: keeping the people in the dark so controlling them won’t be a problem. When the Yonyx intruder evaluates Alice’s “level of ineptitude to the society that is currently emerging,” literature reflecting humanist ideology becomes “subversive,” while believing humans will never turn obsolete makes you a “terrorist.”
A malfunction causes the exterminator drone created by the Yonyx to annihilate all of the Yonyx robots. Funnily enough, a fortuitous bug proved that “[humans] don’t have the monopoly” to err. That was so well played, to be honest. Such an unconditional trust is granted to machines while humans are known to be subject to mistakes. Who would’ve thought that very flaw would end up saving humanity?
Upon a movie driven by various strong themes, Jeunot managed to come up with a story that is as eccentric as it is stimulating. “BigBug” jostles between the old, which is embodied by Alice and her love for antics, and the new, illustrated by Jennifer through her enthusiasm for technology. Viewers undoubtedly are left to ponder complex questions. Among them, one very fundamental matter: how far can humans go, ethically speaking, in their insatiable quest for advancement?
“BigBug” is now streaming globally on Netflix.