In the sci-fi thriller Morgan, Dr. Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), is a corporate troubleshooter sent to evaluate her company’s latest high-tech gizmo after a terrible accident. The gizmo is called Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy), a product of synthetic DNA that has the appearance of a teenage girl.
But as much as the scientists who created Morgan want to believe this artificially intelligent machine is nothing more than a high-tech toaster oven, the dark truth beneath this complicated gadget begins to bubble to the surface.
Screenwriter Seth W. Owen is an American actor and writer who grew up in Canada, where he found success in both careers but came to Hollywood to cast his net in a bigger pond. Morgan became his breakthrough project, not only making it onto the 2014 Blacklist, but also catching the eye of director Luke Scott at Scott Free Productions.
Owen admits the story of Morgan isn’t a new one. “For me this is a tale as old as time. I was definitely thinking about Frankenstein. I’m a child of the famous monsters of Hollywood and wanted to play with those themes and bring them into the modern age.”
Hard to believe that Mary Shelly’s little story of Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus is still relevant nearly 200 years after it was written in 1818, but the fascination with using technology to play god has become a reality. From self-driving cars to Siri, artificial intelligence is here to stay – for better or worse. Just check the topics trending on Twitter or Facebook on any given day.
“It’s hard for it not to be as relevant as ever when the headlines everywhere are dealing with AI,” said Owen, who’s dismayed by the fact that there’s still so little regard for the consequences of allowing technology to infiltrate our lives on such a massive scale.
But a movie can’t be created from a sexy or timely theme alone – it needs to be inspired by character. Morgan was Owen’s way into this timeless story.
“I had Morgan’s voice in my head. I saw her in that room and the way she’d interact with people and the kind of confusion that she was wrestling with. When you write any character, you’re just trying to put yourself in their shoes as much as humanly possible and that’s very much how I approached Morgan. She’s a very confused individual, human or not, and has this giant volume of information being poured into her, but she’s still developing,” he said.
In the movie, Morgan lives in an underground lab, sort of a womb in the earth, where she’s monitored 24/7 by various scientists who have developed various degrees of emotional attachments to her. “I really tried to think about what the isolation does to Morgan and how her personality evolves through coming into contact with each of these people. So she’s taking some very good qualities from the people she’s in close quarters with and some not so good, but I think Morgan is wrestling with what it means to be human and that’s the tension in her.”
Sometimes though, being human isn’t a good thing. Particularly when you look at the violence humans are capable of committing. But beyond being just a work of science fiction, Owen also sees Morgan as a dark comedy.
“There is something essentially comic about it. It’s almost a foregone conclusion that it’s not going to end well for these people.”
It’s certainly possible to step back from the story and laugh at the hubris of the scientists involved in playing god by trying to create a synthetic human, but the film doesn’t play for laughs. Kate Mara’s character is about as serious as a heart attack, and Owen admits he loved the stoic nature of Dr. Lee Weathers.
“I really like taking a character that’s sort of the new sheriff in town and doing that with a woman. It feels new in a way. I think there’s a paradigm shift hopefully to more female protagonists that can really invigorate genre movies. I really liked having these two very strong forces [Morgan and Lee] that you know are going to collide. You set them on a collision course and that was exciting to me to watch that come together.”
Owen’s advice for trying to stand out in the science fiction genre is to look to the real world. “This script was easy to get made probably because there’s an increasing interest in AI and that’s because AI is increasingly an issue in the world.”
Let’s just hope artificially intelligent software programs aren’t writing screenplays anytime soon.
Morgan is currently playing in theaters.