Morgan Director Luke Scott Talks Genetic Modification, His Attraction To Sci-fi, And How Robots Feel So Last Century
Set in a remote research facility during the unspecific future, Morgan follows what happens after a genetically modified being (Anya Taylor-Joy as the titular Morgan) unexpectedly attacks one of her caretakers, and a risk-assessment officer (played by Kate Mara) from the company funding the project comes to decide whether it should be terminated. As you might expect, things don’t go smoothly and the issue isn’t resolved with a detailed evaluation sent as an email attachment.
Morgan is the feature debut of Luke Scott, the son of Ridley Scott and the nephew of Tony Scott, two prolific and sometimes magnificent directors. Growing up, he’d visit his father’s workplace, and as a kid he even donned a spacesuit so the smaller-scale sets of Alien would look bigger on screen. The family business was always around him. “You’d watch the development of these great ideas taking place,” says Scott. “To use Alien as an example, there were very strange and dark images of HR Giger coming into the house. As a young person, you’d kind of be scarred and damaged for life by opening up a book, but it was fascinating. Going to the set, it’s still magic.”
After growing up in England, Scott briefly attended USC film school before dropping out. In the early 1990s he began working on his father’s production crews, but over the next two decades he focused on making commercials. In 2012 he directed both the short film Loom, showcasing the capabilities of Sony’s RED digital camera, and a fake TED talk by Peter Weyland to promote Ridley’s Prometheus. While Morgan shares thematic ties to his father’s two science-fiction masterworks, Alien andBlade Runner, it also references many other films, including The Long Kiss Goodnight, La Femme Nikita, and The Terminator. Ahead ofMorgan’s release this Friday, Luke Scott got theoretical with MTV News about corporate control of science, the potential dangers of genetic modification, and why robots are so last century.
When you think about the future, does it scare you? Do you see this film as a warning?
Luke Scott: No, it’s not a warning, because I think no matter what, science can provide a force for good, fundamentally. Over time, like all things, it’s open to abuse. Certainly this kind of genetic modification of the human chromosome and DNA, if it’s not happening already, has the potential to do great things in terms of disease and improving the health of the individual. I suppose the real problem is if it becomes proprietary. If we start designing our children to have the edge, you will start seeing a certain kind of overclass developing, which obviously has terrible social implications. Not that we don’t have that in place already—the haves and the have-nots, the great inequality of the world.
In the film there is a corporation that’s funding the whole Morgan project. Do you see the corporate exploitation of technology as the biggest threat?
Absolutely. The corporation in Morgan is looking to monetize this kind of science. They’re developing Morgan with the view to create something that can be applied to health and safety, so your police forces or your fire departments or, for that matter, doing more dangerous jobs. And the long view is to take [the genetically modified beings] into the home, and they become assistants or live a life of servitude. I suppose for the corporation, the plan is to have the ubiquity of these Humans, Part Two. Of course, what they’re developing is relatively superhuman, and so it would, I suppose, ring the bell for the natural human.
You’re a filmmaker and you’re modern person who incorporates new technology into your life and work to make them easier, but when you hear about technological advances, are you skeptical about how they’ll be used?
Yes, I’m hugely skeptical about it, but I think it goes back to human beings having a fantastic feature, and it’s called ambition. Ambition drives pretty much everything. Ambition wants us to improve our lot, basically, but I can’t help thinking we’re pursuing a return to a technological Eden. We do try to create a paradise on Earth, because we are hubristic and we want to surpass this notion of God and then ourselves become gods.
Is that just human nature?
I don’t know, it’s my theory. I’m sure there are some better-evolved ones out there that work. It’s a terrible generalization as well, because the guy living in Bolivia digging salt may or may not arrive at these ideas, because their experience is vastly different than mine. But I think human nature does strive. Why do we live? Why do we struggle to live in the face of adversity?
What type of research did you do before making this film?
I did a lot of research on the collective consciousness facility known as the internet, and kept an eye on things. I made a short movie called Loom, which really introduced me to the idea of genetic modification. It made me realize that G.M. had been around for such a long time. You look at all the fruits and all the animals that we actually consume, they’re all effectively genetically modified through hybridization and those kinds of things. Loom was about manufacturing meat and protein, and the challenge was: How are we going to do this? I was trying to figure out what the technical process would actually be to produce a good steak, the quantities in which they’d produce good steak, not through the traditional forms of farming livestock. It’s hugely expensive.
I was still working on the idea of how does this work and just kept a close eye on the research and all the stuff, like the $250,000 hamburger you can go and sample. That opened up a whole world to me about what genetic science can do, and the exciting new world that offers up—this whole idea of robotics against genetic modification and cloning.
I was presented with these three ideas of what Morgan was. Was Morgan a robot? No, because to me robotics and [artificial intelligence] felt kind of last century, strangely enough. It felt like, “What is this tin man, this mechanical thing?” It’s very Heath Robinson. It’s a great idea, but we are getting to a point of being so advanced that this is, in a sense, an old idea. Whereas cloning is flawed because you’re relying on already flawed information and flawed material in the DNA.
So what was this new idea of unnatural synthesis of DNA? All organisms are like machines anyway. I thought that was fascinating, and that’s where Morgan’s genesis lies. Morgan is still a machine, the structures are very natural, they’re just manipulated heavily in the lab. There’s a lot of reading out there. The work that they’re doing in Korea and China, and just opening up the propriety to that—there’s obviously these great moral discussions that are ongoing at this time.
I spoke to a professor at Queen’s University in Belfast and reached out to another in the UK as well. The professor in Belfast, I had a very candid conversation with him in his lab. He deals specifically with more microscopic organisms and that kind of thing. What was fascinating to me was the reaction when I offered him the three versions: Do you choose robotics, cloning, or genetic modification to create a human? He concurred with my theory that you’re definitely looking at genetic modification to create that new organism. He was very uncomfortable talking about it because it’s a moral minefield for him.
Why did you decide to do science fiction for your first film?
It wasn’t that, it was more to the point that I received the script and read it and I thought it was terrific and had something. I love science fiction, but I also love action and I also love comedy and all of those kinds of things. I probably would never be able to direct a comedy because I’m not that funny. I don’t have that funny bone in me, so it wouldn’t be a natural fit. But I love the world of science fiction, and I love the world of technology and science too.
Has that love always been there?
Yeah. When I was at USC and in my general education classes I was really attracted to neurology and neuroscience. It was just a whole new world for me, and I did study that for a semester or so. I would have loved to have been a brain surgeon, to be honest, but I don’t think I’m smart enough.