Science fiction is, arguably, my favorite genre. I think I’ve more or less leveled off in terms of my enjoyment of one genre over another, but the truth is, sci-fi gets me for the ideas, the “What ifs?”, and what the consequences might be for dealing in technology we don’t understand. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a big, bold epic like “2001” or “Dark City” or something smaller like “The Day the Earth Stood Still” or “Solaris,” the story is the most important thing.
Ralph Suarez’s “Halina” is as small as sci-fi gets. You won’t find any of the ambitious visuals that make up a lot of films, but rather an intimate, personal story that comes down to people. The only thing that puts it in the realm of sci-fi is the title character (played by Hannah Jane McMurray), a robot version of a woman who has died of cancer, and who sits alone in a bedroom in an opulent mansion she shares with her namesake’s husband. The husband doesn’t much visit, as he can’t bear to be reminded of the love he lost. That love does exist in Halina, though, who carries the dead woman’s memories in addition to her looks, and is excited when she sees the husband come to acknowledge their “anniversary.” We are introduced to Halina through Mischa (Lilly Wilton), a young woman who is hired to keep Halina company by a family friend (Patricia O’Neil) who manages the grounds. Mischa hits it off with Halina, who seems to come along at a good time for Mischa, who has just broken up with her live-in boyfriend. When a secret into the real Halina’s death becomes known, though, it threatens everyone involved.
Suarez’s film is an emotional work, first and foremost, as it doesn’t really delve too deeply into the nature of artificial intelligence, although there are profound questions Mischa has for Halina, who seems to have consciousness of her own, and can make new memories, while also reciting memories from her namesake’s life. That it eschews some of those questions for a murder mystery is a bit of a disappointment, I suppose, but since that opens up deeper emotional veins, it’s hard to hold that against the film as a whole. The truth is, what really makes the film work is the bond between Mischa and Halina, who come to need one another in a way that feels like genuine friendship for the robot, and the young woman whose personal life has been thrown for a loop. We get the sense that this is a relationship that will not only help Mischa heal from the disarray her life is in, but also help Halina carry on the memory of the woman she’s named after better. Suarez’s film doesn’t feel like a sci-fi film by the end, but in the ways it challenges our thinking of what the genre can offer, it works as well as the best ones do.