It’s funny revisiting technologically-focused science-fiction features because they either unintentionally predict future events or look woefully out-of-date. Demon Seed does both, prophesying a world where everything in our homes is automated while presenting it with some of the most out-of-touch technology (and depictions of gender) you’d expect for a movie released in 1977.
Scientist Alex Harris (Fritz Weaver) has created an artificially intelligent supercomputer named Proteus. But as Proteus becomes more aware of himself, he decides he’d like to bridge the gap between computer and human by creating a child. He demands the help of Harris’ wife, Susan (Julie Christie) to act as the child’s womb…whether she likes it or not.
Demon Seed is a movie that wants to talk about the horrors of technology, but not about the horrors of the people behind it. Influenced heavily by 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), the Proteus comes off as little more than a rapey HAL-9000. Proteus smartly articulates why he wants to have a child – because only then can he be immortal – but there’s never any proper discussion about how things have progressed this far. The script, attributed to Robert Jaffe, just paints everything with the brush of: AI is bad. Even Jurassic Park (1993) took more time to look at the ramifications of humanity’s decisions. There’s a brief moment about Alex trying to cure leukemia but the script doesn’t seem interested in explaining anything more than “capitalism turns computers evil?” Really, I was thoroughly confused by human motivations here and that’s not what you want in a movie about a rogue computer.
There are eerie parallels to our own world at the moment. Susan and Alex’s home is controlled by a central “Enviropod” computer that is able to make them drinks, turn lights on and off, and generally be the Clapper meets Siri. It’s remarkably prophetic how the movie foretells a world where we just have to say “Hey Alexa” and something happens. Of course, it’s doubtful Alexa or Siri would try to rape someone. Since this is 1977, though, that does mean the methods of foretelling this technology is old-fashioned, particularly the massive
The audience gets the briefest of introductions to Alex and Susan Harris and the script doesn’t seem to want us to care too much about them. They’re seemingly preparing to separate because Alex is consumed with his work. Weaver is pretty irrelevant to the whole film, being isolated in his corporate lab. His grand realization about what’s happening is laughable, with the camera coming in close. For women it’ll be little more than a head-slap “Seriously.” The only one doing anything passing for serious acting is Julie Christie as Susan.
Demon Seed is a movie that would seriously benefit from a female director and/or screenwriter. It’s easy to see how this is a horror movie aimed at women, as opposed to a film about the horrors of technology. Susan is isolated in the house, her only job as a child psychologist, but that’s the only history her character is given. We don’t need her life story because the crux of the narrative is watching her be terrorized by Proteus. This is far from Julie Christie’s best work. Relegated to putting her hands in her hair and looking pained, there’s little required of her other than looking scared. (The camera also loves to voyeuristically leer at her body, no surprise considering this was the ’70s.) Proteus tries to get her on his side regarding having a child and the script never puts us in her shoes. She never expresses what she thinks, short of mentioning she’s scared.
The rape imagery and relationship here would never be extrapolated in 1977, and to chastise the film for its failures would be moot. Thus why I think a remake would be worthwhile. However, the movie’s 95-minute runtime just revolves around Susan finding some method of escape and being denied. The character isn’t particularly inventive, and it’s hard not to see this as 95-minutes of watching a poor woman be tortured. When she is finally impregnated there’s, again, no entry into her mind. She’s bearing a computer’s child and yet just seems to sit in chairs for the next 28 days while it develops? There’s no emotion from the character and it’s never explained why. You’re almost led to believe she’s a computer, herself. The movie seems to miss the point about what makes the movie so frightening. Scenes of Christie tied to a table being probed against her will is frightening, even more so in today’s culture, yet the whole thing comes off from a dense perspective of “your computer is trying to kill you!”
Demon Seed has aged poorly but is perfectly poised for a remake. Give time to letting the lead actress discuss what’s happening to her, or just be interested in giving her a personality to begin with. I love Julie Christie but this does nothing for her.
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.