M3GAN (2023)—Grief, Emotional Attachment and Moving On
Who’s reading this and has a fear of creepy dolls? What if I told you that this movie not only deals with a creepy doll, but a creepy doll with advanced artificial intelligence (A.I.)? Now before you decide this movie isn’t for you, let me say that looks may be deceiving. Although promotional material presented M3GAN as the next Child’s Play, besides having a creepy doll as the title character, the two are completely different films with vastly different messages.
Gemma (played by Allison Williams) is a roboticist at a large toy company that makes interactive digital toys for kids. After her niece, Cady (played by Violet McGraw), loses her parents in a car accident, Cady moves in with Gemma who is too busy to pay her any attention. To help her move past the trauma of her parents’ death, Gemma creates a new toy with state of the art A.I. dubbed M3GAN (Model 3 Generative Android and pronounced “Megan”) that will act as a friend to Cady. However, after a series of mishaps, Gemma begins to discover that there is more to Megan than what meets the eye.
Despite M3GAN being advertised as a horror film, even being distributed by Blumhouse Productions and produced by James Wan who’s famous for directing films such as Insidious and The Conjuring, it never truly feels like a horror film. While the doll Megan itself looks like an evil version of Elizabeth Olsen, the overall story is one of grief, moving on, and finding connection. After losing her parents, Cady becomes depressed and has a difficult time connecting with other people, including her aunt Gemma and her therapist Lydia. When she is given Megan, Cady develops an emotional bond to Megan that she normally would to a parent or guardian. She brings Megan with her everywhere and refuses to leave her alone for even a minute.
Regarding the role that Megan is supposed to play, while she was designed to be a playmate for kids, she ultimately was programmed to be more, and not in a good way. Megan was programmed to help kids with their homework, hold conversations with them, and even discipline them and give them positive reinforcement. Does this sound more like a parent to you? You would not be mistaken. In a way, Megan would be programmed to do what a parent would normally do. While Gemma likely did it to help Cady cope with the death of her parents, she ended up making things worse for her in the long run, as Cady ended up not wanting to socialize with real people.
Speaking of which, in a way, M3GAN shares many similarities with Spike Jonez’s Her. Both films revolve around someone in an emotional crisis who forms a deep attachment to an A.I. that initially helps them get through life’s troubles, but both eventually outgrow their A.I. counterparts. And while the obvious difference is that Cady sees Megan as a surrogate sister while Theodore sees Samantha as a love interest, both films ask the question of if it is possible for someone to develop real feelings for something that isn’t real.
But besides the similarities to Her, M3GAN also contains elements from the Terminator franchise, Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 film Ghost in The Shell and even Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Much like Skynet, Megan quickly gains sentience and independent thought, in addition to controlling all forms of smart technology and her viral creepy dance is reminiscent of the T-800’s menacing gait. Meanwhile, the scenes where her cybernetic body is being suspended in the air resembles part of Motoko Kusanagi’s construction or birth sequence during the title credits in Ghost in The Shell. Finally, Megan’s outfit and robotic movement bears a striking resemblance to the creepy twins from The Shining. It’s clear to me that the production crew on M3GAN drew from multiple sources to create a fun, offbeat comedic and creepy film!
M3GAN may seem like a throwaway horror film, but it is far deeper than what it initially seems. It’s far from a typical horror film, rather it’s more of a comedic film with hard-hitting undertones. But don’t let that drop your guard, as the film does rely on the building of tension for some jump scares to varying success. What started out as a method of comfort and coping ultimately turns into a malevolent and unstoppable force. If anything, M3GAN is a cautionary tale of unhealthy coping mechanisms infused with Skynet-inspired fun and terror.