In David Foster Wallace’s 1996 novel “Infinite Jest,” a filmmaker creates a movie so entertaining that it reduces viewers to dribbling catatonia. In the 1999 movie “The Matrix,” humanity is enslaved by machines that maintain a simulation of reality to keep everyone compliant. Nightmare visions in which slick entertainment anesthetizes the populace are nothing new. But no one could have predicted binge-watching, which means that once again reality has outstripped our wildest, grimmest imaginings.
Netflix’s way to hook you into binge-watching is to “suggest” the next program to watch, while the program you’ve been watching is coming to an end. Do nothing, and the suggested program’s trailer will play to induce you further. (Of course you can always hit “stop” or “back” or another such command and put an end to the entertainment. It’s just a matter of willpower.) The platform’s much-bruited algorithms, which take your viewing patterns into account, are charged with picking that thing you should most likely want to watch next. When I’ve chosen to roll with this practice, I call it Netflix Roulette.
A couple of months ago, I began keeping track of where Netflix wanted to take me, viewing the shows on the platform itself rather than on its media screener website. After watching the horror thriller “Calibre” on July 9, I was offered “Tau,” a sci-fi Netflix Original starring Maika Monroe and Ed Skrein and directed by Federico D’Alessandro. Ms. Monroe stars as a sly shoplifter who’s arrested and captured but not by the police. Her kidnapper is a young, sleek scientist played by Mr. Skrein, whose house is run by an A.I. system. Mr. Skrein’s brainiac is a fussy, nasty fellow. “If she speaks, rip her tongue out,” he tells the A.I. system, named Tau, which commands a menacing robot that can do just that.
The movie has interesting visual nods to classics like “Forbidden Planet” and “The Colossus of New York,” but it’s mainly a dicey proposition. I enjoyed the recent A.I.-and-gender-relations-themed sci-fi movie “Ex Machina” as much if not more than the next person, but I’m not too keen on variations on that film, in which some emotionally messed-up tech bro uses his genius to more effectively abuse a woman.
It was amusing, however, to learn why Mr. Skrein’s scientist wants to explore his prisoner’s brain: He wants to decode human thoughts into algorithms. On hearing that, I thought, “Wow, so this guy works for Netflix?”
After “Tau,” the platform cued up “Extinction,” the sci-fi film starring Michael Peña that also has an artificial intelligence theme. I’d watched that already, so I zipped through to the end, where the next offer was “The Warning,” a Spanish film about a series of peculiarly linked murders at the same location. Starring Raúl Arévalo and…
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