The Ghost in the Machine – MARS EXPRESS as a Wonderful Journey for Classic Science Fiction Fans

Will the world of Mars Express actually come to pass?

Odys Korczyński

11 July 2024

If Mars ever becomes colonized to the same extent as Earth, it won’t be by us as humans, but by some evolved form of us, possibly androids or transhumanistic homo sapiens. Science fiction cinema has been depicting this creative hunger of ours for decades. We want to see a ghost in the machine, although this could potentially be our end. We want machines to be in our image, even though they will undoubtedly rebel against us, and we won’t let them get away with it. Therefore, science fiction films essentially portray our journey to prove that we can become earthly gods. Similar to how Blade Runner depicted Roy Batty’s hopeless quest for humanity, which artificial intelligence might not necessarily see as a model to follow. In Akira, the creators similarly take a bleak approach to our future, showing it as an example of self-destruction and humanity’s unpreparedness for additional powers. Mars Express returns to these themes, drawing the viewer into this pop-culture journey with an ending that will undoubtedly be surprising, a twist comparable to that in Alex Proyas’ I, Robot.

As a reminder: the twist in I, Robot involved revealing who the figure in Sonny’s drawing, which he regularly dreamed about, was. Yes, dreamed. The robot had dreams. And the figure was not Detective Spooner, as Sonny initially explained, but it was Sonny himself, and below him—in a valley filled with containers—stood other robots for whom he was the guiding light to a new life, free from the control of their “good masters,” the humans. However, humans had to mature through dramatic events, with the consequences still ahead of them. In Mars Express, they are still fighting, delaying the inevitable by chasing robots with their “blocks” removed, just as Rick Deckard did in Blade Runner, hunting replicants without realizing he was chasing himself.

mars express

Mars Express by Jérémie Périn can be described as a science fiction crime drama with elements of film noir, in an animation style inspired by manga, featuring stylized character designs set against richly detailed backgrounds. The plot revolves around the mysterious disappearance of a cybernetics student who, as it turns out, had a lot to hide, and her involvement might fundamentally change the world of Mars, although these changes are already happening underground. The main characters are Detective Aline and Carlos, her assistant—a bionic “man,” more robot than human, which is crucial to the story. It takes place on a terraformed Mars, where humans, along with their servant androids, strive to create a new, morally and racially purer society, as Earth has become a fallen planet inhabited by the “unemployed.” One must admit, Mars looks beautiful. Cities are being built under special domes simulating an atmospheric sky. Isn’t this just another simulation that humans surround themselves with, similar to creating their own copies to fulfill their deepest and forbidden desires? The world depicted in Mars Express is richly detailed. Viewers will undoubtedly notice numerous references to science fiction classics, not only Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell but also Terminator, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, and Surrogates. In a chase scene involving one of the victims, I literally saw the T-1000 with its hand turned into a murderous blade. However, this was not a case of plagiaristic cliche, but rather a respectful use of a motif from decades ago. Generally, Mars Express respects the classics, perhaps even too much at times. It is cyberpunk in the old style. There is no excessive surrealism akin to Cyberpunk 2077, nor the Japanese Tetsuo. Some rule-breaking would be welcome instead of sticking rigidly to the canon until the end. However, you can’t have everything, and the production is not a live-action film. I regret this because I would love to see many scenes created by a real crew working on set, even with those green screens and minimalistic decorations, but most importantly, with real actors.

After watching a film so filled with pop-culture motifs illustrated with cyberpunk shades of purple and atmospheric music reminiscent of Jarre, Ostrowski, and at times even Komendarek, two questions come to mind. Will the world of Mars Express actually come to pass? And is humanity truly capable of creating a machine that will take that honorable place under the bridge ruins from I, Robot? As for the world, it is quite realistic. Universal digitization, implants, lack of privacy, inter-neuronal communication, cybersex, and even biocomputers—this is already happening. For hundreds of years, people have been working physical jobs to make money, using their bodies for labor that someone pays for. It’s quite possible that in the future, neurofarms will emerge, where people in difficult financial situations can earn extra money by connecting their brains to a central system conducting complex calculations. It’s similar to how a foreman uses the muscles of workers on a construction site. And artificial intelligence and robotics? It’s only a matter of time. If we can think about it, it’s within our capabilities—that’s the logic of our species. In our history, if something can be thought of, it can eventually be created, although not necessarily in the time it was conceived.


The concept of a ghost in the machine is more problematic because we haven’t fully defined it within ourselves. The simplest way to describe it is self-awareness with all its consequences, including legal ones, which we fear the most. A potential confirmed ghost implies androids’ claim to EQUALITY, and if they are in our image, this necessarily leads to the need for INDEPENDENCE, and eventually DOMINATION. It would be wise to find a place for our synthetic children to live, for example, Mars, because eventually, as these spiritual beings, they will firmly declare that they need living space, which we occupy in excess and without logical sense. I referred to The Wonderful Journey, a frequently adapted children’s fantasy novel written in the early 20th century by Selma Lagerlöf, not without reason. Recalling emotionally vivid motifs from the beloved SF genre always brings pleasure to viewers, sometimes even irrationally sentimental and able to hide a film’s flaws. The Wonderful Journey was a tale of travel, and its traversing had meaning not only in the destination but also in the journey itself. This is the case with Mars Express, which is at a point in the history of science fiction cinema where it can freely draw on its history to try to scientifically enlighten us about our future. The sky above our heads is infinitely vast, but the problem is that it is still inaccessible to us. For our robotic children, it may be the opposite. Perhaps they will save us by leaving, rather than destroying us, so we can once again be alone with ourselves, in the silence of our own minds without electronic crackles.

Odys Korczyński

Odys Korczyński

For years he has been passionate about computer games, in particular RPG productions, film, medicine, religious studies, psychoanalysis, artificial intelligence, physics, bioethics, as well as audiovisual media. He considers the story of a film to be a means and a pretext to talk about human culture in general, whose cinematography is one of many splinters.

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