In a propaganda piece designed to prepare the public for the automotive industry’s vision of the future, Director Alex Horwitz pads ‘Autonomy’, a documentary produced by Car and Driver Magazine, with talking heads who do all they can to keep this sluggish narrative moving for those not directly related to the subject.
While ‘Autonomy’ may work as an Industrial film for auto execs, engineers, and perhaps as an aside to the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), it has been touring the Film Festival circuit, appearing at SXSX and most recently Detroit-Ann Arbor Cinetopia Film Festival, where it doesn’t appear to carry enough creative spirit to be interesting to film enthusiasts.
During the 1 hour and 20 minute doc we hear from people who love to drive juxtaposed against those who do not in an attempt to create some sort of controversy. The issue volleys back and forth repeatedly without ever having the stakes rise. Not too far in it becomes apparent that we’ll be getting what the industry will be selling and that this foray into filmmaking is nothing more than virtue signaling from the powers that be who want us to believe they are struggling with their decision to make ‘Self-Driving’ vehicles.
One of the high points in the film comes from journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell (also credited as an Executive Producer) who expresses his love for his vintage BMW and reminds us that our automobiles are more than just vehicles to get us “from home, to work, to the movies and back.” Gladwell says we, “choose cars that say something about us …”
The Director does take us to Germany, Silicon Valley, and Japan in an effort to change atmosphere and introduce us to other experts in the field. But, really, one talking head speaking in a laboratory is not much different than the other – even with subtitles. Again, it isn’t that there is anything technically wrong with ‘Autonomy’ it’s just that it isn’t interesting enough to be consumed. Like it’s subject matter, the movie, as a piece of cinema, seems to be on autopilot – which, for a picture taking up valuable programme space at a Film Festival, makes for a bland screening experience.
Finally, the producers push their concerns over safety, the ability to service the disabled, and the fact that 94% of all accidents are caused by human error. Throughout the movie they explain the car will go the way of the horse and drop hints that only the rich will be able to own and operate motor vehicles – the rest of us will travel in a safer, more controlled environment. Sadly, they feature several high school students who haven’t a driver’s license and don’t seem aware of the joys of driving on the open road. The point being the auto industry knows humans have already succumbed and many, particularly in high traffic environments, prefer an automated life. And, IF, like one Talking Head infers, we might be traveling in a disco lounge with cocktails etcetera, then I might too forego my personal driving experience (at least while in the city).
Gladwell does, however, bring up one strong issue as a caveat. He warns against Hackers who will manipulate computer traffic control systems resulting in thousands of car accidents all at once.
“That’s gonna happen,” Gladwell says. “It will.”
Something worth thinking about, I suppose. But, you don’t need to sit through ‘Autonomy’ to reach that conclusion. Especially, when you can pass the same amount of time considering the effects of the autonomous vehicle during your next Rush Hour home.