Devs | Alex Garland's outlook on godlike tech companies
Technology continuously reshapes lives. It is a common thing to hear nowadays. Devs (produced by Hulu, the first TV show by Alex Garland) takes this statement to an extreme level, imagining a technology that would “literally change every single thing”. What if a technological tool could have the last word on the ground rules of the universe? Garland plays with Silicon Valley’s ambition to act like the messiahs of the digital era, enacting a disturbing thriller story.
Devs: not just the development department
Sergei (Karl Glusman) and Lily (Sonoya Mizuno) live together and work at Amaya, a tech company in San Francisco run by the ambiguous Forest (Nick Offerman). Thanks to an algorithm capable of predicting a nematode behavior ten seconds in the future, Sergei gets promoted by Forest and starts to work at the top-secret project Devs. When he accesses the eccentric Devs building, Sergei finds out the troubling truth about it. Being actually a Russian spy, he unsuccessfully tries to steal some info about it. Forest and his chief of security Kenton (Zach Grenier) kill him and, later on, stage his suicide. With a Hitchcock’s Psycho vibe, Garland closes the first episode by focusing the attention on the actual protagonist, Lily. She will seek the truth about what happened to her boyfriend and about Devs.
Alex Garland, Devs & Tech Messiahs
Ex Machina and Annihilation already showed that Alex Garland is a director with a clear and original vision. Devs could be compared to Too Old To Die Young by Nicolas Winding Refn or The Young Pope by Paolo Sorrentino, in which the directors’ style is evident. Garland stages ambiguous and tense atmospheres, sometimes loosens anxiety with witty jokes, but always gives the audience a subtle feeling that everything will go terribly wrong. A feeling that is maximized by the ominous, startling scores, once again by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow.
In the case of Devs, Alex Garland mixes this perpetual sense of anguish with a somehow religious awe. The Devs laboratory appears a golden, sacred temple, where God is praised by the endless typing sound. The rose-window-like decorations at the entrance, the yellow and dense light, and the Gregorian hymns playing: all of it makes Devs looks like a church.
The religious nuances are not only aesthetic but also inherent to the plot and even hidden in the title. Aside from personal interests, Forest is the archetype of the fanatical tech company CEO who pursues his research, careless about consequences. Garland uses technology to talk about an utter change in the understanding of the world, partially recalling Villeneuve’s Arrival. Leaving out transhumanism or singularity, it mixes topics like Big Data, multiverse theories, and quantum computers. Devs depicts the Silicon Valley firm belief that technology carries a new Revelation bound to change the world.
Walking on hidden tramlines
Like Westworld, Devs is about the endless battle between free will and mechanistic determinism. With no robots, less action, and more philosophical dialogues. Nonetheless, dialogues often focus on choices, either following or ignoring orders, playing by or break the rules. A hint that determinism could be an even bigger delusion. Above all, Lily is the one always willing to take action, without waiting for life to pass her by. Right at the end, she will commit an act of biblical proportions, disrupting the sacred order described by Devs.
Together with a sense of déjà vu from Black Mirror’s San Junipero, the season finale idly gives the audience an open ending that doesn’t explore the actual consequences Devs could have on the real world. However, the thrilling and appalling challenges Lily has to face keep the engagement high, while Garland calmly unravels the mystery. Plus, Devs’ philosophical questions and the intensity of its visuals will stick in the audience’s mind for a while.