After finishing the mini-series Devs on Hulu, I thought to myself, “I’m definitely not letting this one go by without a review.” I know I’m a few months late but, in my defense, I don’t venture into the land of Hulu as often as I should. However, with my interest in Netflix actively declining, I recently started discovering some hidden gems in Hulu.
I had fully expected Devs to be yet another series about sentient AI or something along those lines. Instead, I was witness to something a little fresher… quantum computing. Sure, quantum computing as such isn’t anything new in sci-fi but it has been muffled by a decade of non-stop “AI awakes!” flicks.
Finally! A genuinely gripping sci-fi series that isn’t just trying to one up Ex Machina:
(A computer engineer investigates the secretive development division in her company, which she believes is behind the disappearance of her boyfriend.)
Within the frame of eight episodes, Alex Garland’s mini-series, released March 9, unfolds the tale of a one-of-a-kind tech company, Amaya. Within it, a top secret branch called Devs (short for developers) uses the most highly advanced quantum computer for a unique purpose… observing the future. Well, it’s more like a simulated version of the future. Or a simulation of what really happened then.
That’s confusing, I know. But it will make more sense if we look at the underlying philosophical assumptions on which the story is built. Many highly intelligent scientists take some or all of these assumptions to be true. Other scientists don’t, but here they are:
First, Devs takes place in a causally determined universe. Think of Newtonian physics (cause and effect), but on a much grander scale. Each particle interacts with the one after it or near it. As in a cosmic Rube Goldberg machine, everything happens the way it does because it was determined to do so. In the world of Devs, there is no free will. That’s just an illusion.
Second, Devs’s world is reductionist. All the properties and compositions of everything everywhere, including humans, are purely material and can be thoroughly reduced to their simplest material parts. Thus the entire universe is completely reducible to its material parts.
Finally, Devs takes place in a many-worlds interpretation of the universe (the Everett interpretation of quantum mechanics). Each time a particle goes one way or the other, the universe splits into two and each heads off separately. Essentially, there is an infinite number of possible ways that the one in which we live could exist. Thus the many-worlds hypothesis posits that all these alternative worlds really exist.
Every good story is built upon philosophical assumptions about the world and these happen to be the ones on which Devs was built. Knowing them makes the story much easier to understand.
One final note about the series: It’s deeply religious. No, I don’t mean there are a bunch of evangelical Christians in the film. Rather, the analogy between Devs and religion is striking. The music sounds like a Gothic choir, the Dev building looks like a tabernacle (with the quantum computer resting in its holy of holies), and snatches of monologue and dialogue sound more like scripture than like everyday conversation. The first event we witness from the past is Christ hanging on a cross. Yes, Devs is deeply religious. I don’t know too much about British writer Alex Garland so I can’t say whether he was identifying his fundamental beliefs as inherently religious or creating a juxtaposition between the Judeo-Christian God and scientism.
At any rate, Garland has created a genuinely thought-provoking film. The main characters are engaging, the story gains momentum, the conflict never flattens, and the directing is superb. I will leave it to you to decide how you feel about the ending. Overall, it is absolutely worth a watch.
Screening it for a group? As far as sensitive content goes, there is a rather high volume of profane language and one scene of partial(ish) nudity at the beginning of Episode 3.
Still in lockdown (or still feel like it)? Check out some of these watchable shorts (most are free):
I’m glad I decided to I decided to revisit DUST, a wonderful community of short, free sci-fi films at YouTube. They’ll sure take your mind off lockdown. Both “Hum” and “Alientology” feature a simple storyline that works in a short film. “EI: Emotional Intelligence,” an animated short, compares well with live action shorts. “Exit Strategy” is one of the few really successful sci-fi films on the topic of time. And I would love to see “The Secret Number” made into a feature film.
AI Week at DUST, the sci-fi short films channel: Films you have time to see and think about
“How To Be Human”: This new film turns a conventional sci-fi storytelling premise upside down.
“Dirty machines”: Short time travel flick exceeds expectations
Sci-fi shorts for the weekend from DUST: This week, check out a sci-fi short reminiscent of Wall-E and learn why letting an AI raise your child might not be the best solution to parenting. (April 18, 2019)
Sci-fi shorts of the weekWith human input, “Sunspring” starts to make sense. This week, watch a collaboration between deep learning and human creativity produce something far more coherent than “Sunspring.” And check out an animation on the pitfalls of emotional intelligence. (April 4, 2019)
Shelter in Place? Your Sci-Fi Video Game Binge List: You’ll never know where the long hours went. Has your ISP lifted bandwidth limits in your area due to thousands more Americans working from home? Great news for gamers too! Here’s my list of top-notch sci-fi apocalypse games.
How sci-fi treats pandemics Five sci-fi apocalypses to help you wait out COVID-19
One thing for sure, all those doomsday preppers, at whom we silently rolled our eyes years ago, are now crackin’ a secret smile. Never mind, us sci-fi buffs are going to need more than fizzy water and disinfectant. We need food for the mind! Here’s a sci-fi binge list, to keep our minds occupied.