Yes, M3GAN Is A Goofy Horror Movie, But It's Also A Thoughtful Science Fiction Film

The cinematic slate for 2023 has kicked off with a bang, with the Universal and Blumhouse joint, "M3GAN," aerial flipping her way into theaters. Movie fans have been delighted for months of brilliantly memeable marketing moments, like an army of M3GANs showing up to a Los Angeles Chargers game and dancing on the field, or, of course, the trailer drop featuring the titular robotic killer dancing in a red hallway. Directed by Gerard Johnstone of "Housebound" fame, written by "Malignant" scribe Akela Cooper, and produced by the macabre maestro, James Wan, "M3GAN" has been wearing her goofy horror heart on her puff cap sleeves.

"M3GAN" has rightfully continued the trend of "fun horror," in the wake of a lot of horror movies about trauma, and fans have already correctly clocked her as a campy, comedy queen. It's undeniable that "M3GAN" is a bonkers blast and a half, but audiences might be surprised at just how thoughtful the film is in the way it approaches the boogeyman of unregulated technological advancements. When I sat down to watch a killer doll with the Renesmee Cullen robot baby face for a new generation, I expected to laugh. I expected to see some ridiculous kills. What I did not expect, was to feel myself choking on tears as human beings come to terms with how technology has made them forget how to be human.

The benefits of technology

To act as if the advancements in technology haven't been a net positive is not only ahistorical, but also foolish. It's definitely important to be critical of anything unregulated, but my life has been made infinitely easier and more enjoyable because of technology. Outside of the M3GAN doll and the other toys made by the Funki company (like the absolutely cursed PurRpetual Petz), technology has a pivotal role in the lives of all of the characters. Gemma's home, like many of our own, is synched up with an Elsie virtual assistant, an obvious play on Amazon Alexa. As a roboticist, Gemma has clear respect and admiration for technology, and her pristine toy collection of sci-fi puzzle toys and monstrous robots showcases that her fascination was rooted in her own childhood — back when 16-bit home video game consoles were seen as "the future."

We have little circular robots that automatically vacuum for us, lights that turn off to the sounds of our voices, and even refrigerators that can detect the items stored in them and keep track of expiration dates. Not to mention the community building that has been made possible thanks to social media, and the way we are all able to learn from the real-time lived experiences of people outside of our direct communities. Technology has been a saving grace for so many people, myself included, and "M3GAN" isn't afraid to acknowledge the benefits that exist. A majority of technohorror films tend to paint the industry as wholly evil, but "M3GAN" provides a bit more nuance than that. Obviously, M3GAN going rogue and doing whatever she can to fulfill her directive is dangerous, but that doesn't inherently erase the positive things technology has brought to us all.

The erasure of emotions

Unfortunately, one of the biggest side effects of our increasing dependence on technology is the destruction of emotional regulation. As wonderful as Zoom was during the early days of the pandemic (Hell, I got married on Zoom in my living room), something is lost when you can't share space with another person. It's almost clinical the way technology has changed the way we communicate, in the sense that many people have completely lost a sense of bedside manner.

When Gemma first takes Cady into her home, her attention feels almost sterile. Gemme is a roboticist, and a damn good one at that, but much of her work keeps her locked away in a basement lab with only a couple of other people to talk to. Even her connection to Cady before she became her guardian was surface level at best, gifting her the latest toy from her company instead of thoughtful or personalized gifts. Technology has allowed Gemma to exist on emotional autopilot, which makes Cady vulnerable to M3GAN.

While M3GAN operates on A.I., she can feign emotions in a way that Gemma can't. She genuinely offers herself to be Cady's shoulder to cry on, she listens to Cady talk about her problems, and even stores the stories she tells about her parents in her memory bank, so Cady will never have to worry about forgetting the good times she had with her parents. The latter elicits some deeply powerful emotions from Cady, strong enough to convince a board of directors to greenlight the mass production of M3GAN dolls, regardless of the potential dangers of a robot this advanced. It wasn't her tech that motivated the go-ahead, it was her ability to draw out emotion in front of people starved for it.

You can't replace human connection

The social worker assigned to make sure Cady's transition into Gemma's care is going well is immediately put off by the child's dependency on M3GAN. She has no problem admitting she finds the doll impressive, but flags the dangers of Cady's unhealthy attachment. As beneficial as M3GAN has been in the immediate aftermath of the deaths of Cady's parents, her dependency on the doll prevents her from actually processing her grief and bonding with Gemma. So much of "M3GAN" showcases that the result of people using technology as a way to avoid confrontation, connection, or even conversation ... is a loss of control. M3GAN filled Cady's desperate need for communal support and it escalated into a nightmare scenario that was recognized too late.

When Gemma finally approaches Cady about the importance of letting herself feel the severity of what happened to her parents (not unlike the climax of "Inside Out"), everything changes. M3GAN, however, only wants Cady to feel happy and has been doing her best to help the child avoid the reality of her circumstances. 

M3GAN is only stopped when Cady puts on special gloves to operate a massive, primitive robot named Bruce that Gemma made in college to fight fire with fire ... or robot with robot in this case. Bruce is not as advanced, sleek, or cute as M3GAN, but he's far stronger than she'll ever be. He operates not of his own volition, but by mimicking a human in control. Gemma and Cady, two human beings, must work together to put a stop to M3GAN, with the assistance of something that makes them even stronger than before. Bruce is a tool meant to enhance our abilities, not replace them, which proves "M3GAN" takes an incredibly thoughtful approach to science fiction.