"Demon Seed," now at area theaters, pioneers and esoteric sex crime, computer rape, and blends it with the hit atrocity from "Rosemary's Baby" - infernal conception. Julie Christie has been lured into the thankless starring role of the victim, the estranged wife of computer designer Fritz Weaver, whose awesome new electronic brain. Proteus IV, the repository of literally all knowledge, gets an uncontrollable hankering to reproduce itself in human form and fixes on Christie as semi-Freudian mate bait.
Norminaly, the film is a science-fiction thriller about sexual terror, but it's governed by an attitude that minimizes the terrifying or suspenseful possibilities. Ultimately, director Donald Cammell seems to be proselytizing for crossbreeding between humans and machines, which is viewed as potentially Great Leap Forward in evolution.
They may not realize it, but Cammell and the other men who engineered this story - novelist Dean R. Koontz and screenwriters Robert Jaffe (the offspring of the producer, Herb Jaffe) and Roger O. Hirson - have failed to identify with their ostensible protagonist. Casting the sullen, hard-faced Christie as a Leda of the Computer Age seems an unconscious giveaway, because Christie became a star playing a spiteful, amoral girl who degraded herself and has never really transcended that image.
As a terrorized heroine, she doesn't evoke the immediate sympathy of actresses like Ingrid Bergman in "Gaslight," Dorothy McGuire in "The Spiral Staircase," Audrey Hepburn in "Wait Until Dark" or Mia Farrow in "Rosemary's Baby." One tends to associate Christie with girls who'll try anything once, so she seems ill-equipped to arouse pity and terror by pretending to spawn a metallic-looking Uberkind at the urging of a presumptuous machine that sounds like Robert Vaughn.
The filmmakers' crackpot transcendentalism, possibly inspired by that blasted embryo-in-the-cosmic-bubble image at the end of "2001," prevents them from taking the heroine's violation seriously in either human or melodramatic terms. In a scene that might have been irresistibly funny in a different context, Christie is shown with a rare smile on her face after being impregnated by Proteus IV, which puts her in the mood with computer animation designed by Ron Hays of M.I.T.'s Center for Advanced Visual Studies.
Like the rapacious computer, whose brain waves are illustrated with excerpts from the work of the great abstract animator Jordan Belson (Cammell has stylish taste in abstract imagery and deplorable taste in abstract thought), the filmmakers demonstrate perfunctory concern for the heroine's fears and protestations but ultimately dismiss them as short-sighted. The poor, skittish creature can't seem to grasp the honor of being used as an evolutionary guinea pig, the mother of a potential master race yet.
"Demon Seed" might have been a genuinely witty and terrifying thriller if someone had taken advantage of the story's glaring sadomasochistic implications. Nevertheless, Cammell plays it dumb at a thematic level, ignoring the sci-fi sexual bondage satire staring him in the face.
Proteus ought to be acting out the unconscious or half-conscious desires of his creator, a spurned and frustrated mad-scientist husband. Cammell establishes the fact that the Weaver-Christie marriage is on the rocks. But having established this conflict, the filmmakers neglect to exploit it. What might have become an ingenious parable about the battle of the sexes ends up a dopey celebration of an obstetric abomination.
There couldn't have been much feminine input during "Demon Seed." Cammell doesn't seem to be aware of how this computer-conrolled act of subjugation could be linked with more commonplace apprehensions. For example, a little conversation with new or expectant mothers might have alerted him to the fact that women often feel more threatened than reassured by the counsel they receive form supposedly authoritive males, particularly in the medical profession.