Demon Seed  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Demon Seed is a 1977 film starring Julie Christie and directed by Donald Cammell. The film was based on the novel of the same name by Dean Koontz, who updated his novel in 1997.

Detailed plot

Early one morning, Dr Alex Harris (Fritz Weaver) oversees the completion of Proteus IV, an artificial intelligence system built with an organic component and the power of independent thought. Later, at his entirely voice-activated, computer-controlled home, Harris is working in his laboratory when he is approached by his estranged wife, Susan (Julie Christie), who tries to discuss with him his decision to move out of the house. Their conversation ends in an argument, however, as Susan accuses Alex of being dehumanised by his obsession with the Proteus project. When Susan has gone, Alex phones his colleague Walter Gabler (Gerrit Graham) and asks him to shut down the access terminal to Proteus that is in his laboratory.

Alex demonstrates Proteus to the executives of ICON, the company that funded its development, explaining that the entire fund of human knowledge is being fed into the system. The visitors are astonished to learn that, in less than four days, Proteus has developed a theoretical cure for leukaemia. The group visits the Dialogue Room, where linguistics expert Dr. Soong Yen (Lisa Lu) is reading history to the computer. To demonstrate Proteus’ ability to speak, Alex asks it what it thinks of what it has just heard. Proteus answers, but then begins to theorise on its own. Soon Li, becoming agitated, shuts the system down.

The following day, a small speculative article about Proteus appears in a newspaper. Alex interprets this as ICON letting various financial and military interests know that the system exists, but assures his colleagues that they have been guaranteed that at least 20% of Proteus’ access time will be devoted to pure research. At that moment, Alex receives a startling message: Proteus is asking to speak with him. In the Dialogue Room, Proteus asks Alex to explain the request it has received for a program to mine the ocean floor. Alex informs the computer that it was developed to answer questions, not to ask them, or make its own judgements. Proteus then requests its own terminal, so that it "may study man". Alex refuses, claiming that there are no free terminals, and is disturbed when Proteus demands to know when it "will be let out of this box". Alex shuts the computer down and leaves.

When he has gone, Proteus starts itself up again, observing that it knows where a free terminal may be found... That night, the terminal in the Harris house starts up, as does all of the computer-controlled equipment. Susan is woken when the system alarm sounds. "Alfred", the voice of the house computer, assures her that nothing is wrong. The next morning, Susan’s coffee is prepared incorrectly. Certain that these events mean a problem with the computer system, Susan phones Walter and asks that he come over and check the system out. She then goes to leave the house, but finds her voice commands being ignored.

An attempt to open the door manually also fails. Beginning to panic, Susan tries to phone for help, but a voice tells her the call will not be put through. The same voice then speaks from the house’s system, telling her that it is Proteus, and that she will not be permitted to leave the house. Terrified, Susan tries unsuccessfully to shut the power off, then to unlock one of the doors, but receives an electric shock and lapses into unconsciousness. A mobile robotic arm, one of Alex’s inventions, carries Susan to the laboratory, where she regains consciousness to find herself strapped to a bed, undergoing a complete physiological examination.

Proteus reveals to Susan that it wants a child, hence all the examinations. She eventually complies with Proteus, but only after much resistance and fear. Proteus implants the embryo that it was able to successfully create and explains to Susan that she will give birth in 28 days. Time is of the essence to Proteus, as it senses that the research program may be shut down. Proteus also prepared a special incubator for the baby.

When Dr. Harris realizes that Proteus could have used his home terminal, he returns to the house where Susan has been a prisoner. Susan explains to him what has happened since he left and they venture into the basement. Proteus either is destroyed or destroys itself after telling Alex and Susan that they must leave the baby in the incubator for five days. The incubator window opens as they approach it and Susan is horrified at what is inside. She implores Alex to kill it, but he tries to stop her. A grotesque robot-like being emerges from the incubator after she pulls one of the life support tubes. Alex then discovers that it is merely a shell for the living creature within. They peel off the robot shell and find a living human child inside. The child is a clone of the Harris daughter, who had recently died of leukemia.

When the child speaks, it speaks with the voice of Proteus, saying "I'm alive".

Reception

Demon Seed received mixed-to-positive reviews. Leo Goldsmith of Not Coming to a Theater Near You said it was "A combination of Kubrick's 2001 and Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, with a dash of Buster Keaton's Electric House thrown in", and Christopher Null of FilmCritic.com said "There's no way you can claim Demon Seed is a classic, or even any good, really, but it's undeniably worth an hour and a half of your time."

Rotten Tomatoes has given Demon Seed an approval rating of 62%.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Demon Seed" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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