Life after death has been one of the most intriguing concepts in science fiction. Mix it with the questions about sentience and morality and it becomes a delicious cocktail of existential queries that every sci-fi lover wants to drown themselves in. ‘Archive’ offers all that and more to the audience, with a twist ending that makes you want to rewind the entire film and start from the beginning. Here we break down its meaning. If you haven’t seen the film yet, come back to this article later. You can find all the places where to stream the film here. SPOILERS AHEAD
George Almore lives in a secluded laboratory in Japan, where he has been sent to rebuild its broken systems. He uses this isolation to work on his own plans, far from the eyes of the world as well as his employers. He is haunted by the loss of his wife and is trying to bring her back by uploading her consciousness in the body of a robot. He is assisted in his task by J-2, his second prototype whose brain growth was stunted to teenage years. Meanwhile, he has to dodge the prying eyes of his superior as well as an invisible intruder who threatens to steal J-3, a humanoid who will finally act as the vessel for his wife.
The Ending: Is George Dead?
‘Archive’ begins with George trying to use the model of the Archive program to bring back the consciousness of his dead wife before it hits the expiration date. All of his actions are motivated by this one thing, but the ending turns it around on him. In one of the flashback scenes, we find George and Jules arguing about the program. Jules does not want to be archived because she doesn’t want to be stuck in a box after her death. George tries to convince her that it’s not that bad, then gives up and agrees not to tinker with her consciousness after she is gone.
In the present day, we see him talking to his wife through Archive and assume that she must have changed her mind along the way or that he must have done it against her wishes. Turns out, it wasn’t so. In the end, after George succeeds in transferring the consciousness of Jules into J-3, he gets a phone call. Jules says goodbye to him and it is revealed that it was George, not Jules, who had been living in the Archive all this time. With this new understanding of his situation, the whole movie takes a different meaning and, all the little things start to make sense.
What’s great about the film is that it doesn’t throw the revelation at us out of the blue. It leaves signs and breadcrumbs from the beginning to the very end to prepare us for what’s coming. The first time we see George talking with Jules over the Archive, we see that they have a signal problem. Later, when Sinclair and Melvin arrive to patch up the system, George tells them that the problem does not occur when his wife calls him. This would make sense as unaware of his situation, George believes that he can call Jules anytime. In the final scene, we see that the system works like a phone booth rather than a personal phone, which is why she is not available at all times.
So when he calls her, what he receives is either a simulation (much like the sandwich he creates for J-3) or the call is patched through to the real Jules which takes some work. In another scene, when he encounters trouble with the final call, he calls the customer service and informs them about Melvin and Sinclair fixing his machine, to which he is told that no was sent to him for any repairs. Again, he encounters a connection problem and it is revealed that the person George was talking to was not a person, but a program!
What is Real?
With the nature of his entire reality questioned, we wonder if anything around him was ever real at all. The simplest answer to this is no. Sinclair is the only real person the entire time, and even he must have entered a simulation to fix the problem. The way he looks at George and the tone in which he talks to him confirms the fact that he knows that George is dead and is living in his personal heaven. The guards, and even Melvin, are programs, considering that they don’t have “the relevant information” about the situation. Everything else is a facade, created to convince George that he is not dead, as was hinted in the scene where he and Jules first discuss the program and he says that there would be no way for someone stuck in Archive to know that they were not alive.
This means that neither the J-series nor his boss, Simone, were real. They were all a figment of the imaginary world created specifically for him to allow him to continue his life. As for how long had he been that way? Three years. When he tells Jules about his time at the lab in Japan, the mention of three years is made. Melvin mentions that the time his wife has spent in the Archive is two years eight months and a few days, and is the program is nearing its expiry date.
Within this time frame, George creates a purpose for himself by trying to bring back his wife from the dead. Unbeknownst to himself, what he was actually trying to do was getting his wife’s consciousness from the real world. In the end, when he plugs J-3 to transfer Jules into her body, for a moment it looks like the process is complete. But then the call comes and everything changes for him. This is also when we realize that J-3 acted like Jules had been transferred into her. Why? Because she knew they were in a simulation. We see that with every passing day, she gets Jules’s memories through which she not only discovers her tastes, likes, and dislikes, but also her love for George, as well as the information about her pregnancy, which is something George didn’t know about.
In her final bout, when she accesses the memory of the accident, she discovers that it wasn’t Jules who died that night, but George. This is why she asks him not to pick up the phone the final time, and this is why she fakes giving up herself to be overwritten with Jules. Extrapolating from this, we can also understand why J-2 killed herself. And yes, I believe it is more than just the simple feeling of jealousy. At the beginning of the film, she tells George about the dreams she’s been having. It is about them driving in a car. For a time, she is stuck on it or so George thinks. What if her dream was completed and she realized that nothing around her was real.
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