Who will be the master, and who will be the servant? That’s the philosophical question that many ponder as we move into an age where artificial intelligence is all around us — from online shopping and advertising to smart homes and digital personal assistants. But as it learns and gets smarter, will it no longer serve humans, making us all but obsolete? That’s the question at the heart of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s latest sci-fi comedy for Netflix, Bigbug.
To set the scene, we are in the year 2050 when AI is everywhere (we’re well on our way, folks). It’s there for the mundane, the secret desires, and companionship. In a suburban smarthouse, Alice (Elsa Zylberstein) is keeping the company of try-hard “lady’s man” Max (Stéphane De Groodt) and his son Léo (Helie Thonnat). Unexpectedly, Alice’s ex-husband Victor (Youssef Hajdi) shows up with his new fiancee (Claire Chust) to drop off their daughter Nina (Marysole Fertard) early before the two head off to paradise to tie the knot. Eccentric busy-body neighbor Françoise (Isabelle Nanty) drops by to pick up her dog, who has wandered over. As she begins to leave, an uprising of the Yonyx androids begins, and the household robots trap the crew inside for their own safety. While things on the outside are on the verge of human annihilation, things inside the house aren’t any better as personalities and desires clash and secrets are unveiled. Will they kill each other before the androids get a chance to?
French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet is known for his quirky, fantastical visions (Amelie), and Bigbug is no exception. The film is borderline absurd. If it weren’t for the timely philosophical questions posed (who will serve who and what it means to be human), the movie would be downright foolish. The absurdity of the individuals stuck together against their will makes you question if this film really has a point or if it is just a fun passion project for Jeunet. Still, suffice it to say, all of the actors involved seem like they are having a blast bringing this one to life. They lean into the absurdity of the characters, especially in the Homo Ridiculus scene.
While the storyline (which reminds one an awful lot of the Love, Death + Robots episode “Automated Customer Service,” which was great by the way) comes up just a tad bit short in my book, what really makes this film watchable, besides the performances and seeing the legendary Nanty knock it out the park, as well as the androids (Claude Perron, Alban Lenoir, and François Levantal really nail the uncanny valley aspect of the humanoids — the laughs and smiles are so creepy), is the production value. Bigbug is a mix of what seems like animation/CGI and live-action. Taking place in 2050, it has a futuristic yet retro feel to it (what’s the fascination of the future looking like the Jetsons or a 1960s envisioning of the future?). As we progress technologically, will we forever be obsessed with the past’s analog days? Will retro always be in vogue for a subset of people? Every detail seems to be thought out, and even the design of the different types of household robots and the costume design was meticulous.
While sometimes the absurdity of the situation and characters gets a little overwhelming, overall, Bigbug is still an enjoyable and entertaining watch — if not for the performances and production value alone. And it reminds us that the ads (algorithm) are always listening and watching, and that to never forget that to err is human, so maybe the AI is human just like us…