Finch, Apple TV’s new post-apocalyptic science fiction movie starring Tom Hanks, opens with a scene of dust-blown desert apocalypse wasteland, and I’m already bored. I’ve said it many times before, we’re tired of the doom and gloom already. I was hoping the film would be a first of many solarpunk movies to come, but on that front it totally flops.
Climate change is the film’s driving force behind the global apocalypse, but valuable political overtones and analysis are wiped clean through a back story in which climate change was caused by a solar flare. What amounts to bad luck destroys the ozone layer, removing any element of culpability for both humanity and capitalism. And the only element of the film that hints at climate solutions is the big retractable rack of solar panels on top of Finch’s RV.
It’s not necessarily that the film doesn’t at least try to make some kind of commentary on the human condition, which is a vital aspect of good science fiction. In a story where Hanks’s character, engineer Finch Weinberg, is the only human around and his chosen family consists of a dog and a couple of robots named Dewey and Jeff that he builds out of spare parts, there is perhaps an all too obvious peek into social isolation associated with terminal illness. It’s unfortunate though that even this is poorly done.
In a lot of ways, Finch boils down to a science fiction version of Hanks’s Cast Away. Finch is all alone in a deserted world. Jeff the robot takes the role of Wilson the volleyball with an 8-bit vocal processor. It’s a bit too painfully obvious.
Attempts at comic relief such as Finch teaching Jeff how to put on a jacket, or how to drive the RV fall flat and miss their mark. The cross-country adventure to find a new home—and encountering other humans who are mysterious and scary—is cliché, fails to create real tension in the story, and lacks any unique twist to warrant being memorable. Even the back-and-forth banter between Finch and the “newborn” Jeff, who both doesn’t understand instructions and is naively if not playfully disobedient, feels forced and lacks sincerity. And, as expected, Hanks’s attempts at emotional depth in his performance just doesn’t work.
The basic premise of a man alone in the world and dying of radiation poisoning, who builds a robot to take care of his dog when he is dies, is certainly touching and is why I had at least marginal hopes for the film. But it fails to reach the level of solarpunk, the story script is poorly written, the relationship between the human and robot is cliché and unimaginative, and Hanks’s performance is predictably weak.
The movie does have some saving grace, I suppose. There are clear elements of hopepunk woven throughout the film that should at least be appreciated for the effort. The evolution of sentience within Jeff the robot could have been a good subplot if the script had been better. And the optimistic moment when they reach San Francisco, if acted well, would have been heartwarming and almost works.
There was a brief moment where I actually felt some emotion at the end of the movie. Finch is dead and Jeff finally figures out how to play fetch with Goodyear the dog. The pup, clearly grateful for someone to play with, jumps up and licks the robot’s face. But that one moment is hardly enough to redeem the rest of a movie that ultimately was a great idea very poorly executed.
I wanted to be able to call this film solarpunk. I wanted to like this movie and come away from it excited. Unfortunately, neither ended up being the case.
Justine Norton-Kertson (they/he/she) is the co-editor-in-chief of Solarpunk Magazine. They live in rural Oregon with his partner, puppies, cats, goats, and beehives. She can be found on Twitter @jankwrites.