The Creator isn’t about AI issues — it’s about the war on terror

The United States’ officially designated “Global War on Terrorism” began 22 years ago, just three days after the Sept. 11 attacks. The U.S. ostensibly launched that war to combat terrorism, and went on to wage it in at least four different countries, which were often falsely homogenized into “the Middle East” to simplify the government’s messaging. President George W. Bush’s rhetoric at the time insisted that the war on terror was about eliminating terrorist threats to America’s security, freedom, and way of life — though in truth, the word “threat” was applied loosely, and “guilty by proximity” replaced “guilty by association.” The war ultimately lasted 20 years and functionally ended, after a protracted semi-occupation of Afghanistan by U.S. forces, with an unceremonious retreat in 2021 — though low-level combat operations continue to this day in other regions.

The CreatorGareth Edwards’ excellent science fiction film is now available.Rogue One: Star Wars Story( is not about war on terror. It is not about the war against terror.

Edwards and Chris Weitz’s script places the story into a somewhat alternate past. Simulants, or Sims in the future, are robots that have artificial intelligence and personalities. After a tragic attack by a rogue Sim, the result of a human programming error, the U.S. government decrees that Sims are a threat to Americans’ freedom and way of life, and must be eradicated. So the U.S. Army goes to a region called “New Asia” — a collection of a Southeast Asian countries that allow Sims to have rights on par with those of humans — with NOMAD, a new weapon that’s essentially a suborbital flying fortress. NOMAD is able to move quickly anywhere and can bomb suspected Sim areas, making underground Sim operations difficult but not impossible.

A gigantic space station floating miles above the earth casts a blue beam downward toward the planet in The Creator

20th Century Studios

The war on terror began in America, but few people could have imagined that it would last for decades. And it wasn’t until years later that information about the collateral damage of U.S. airstrikes started to gain traction in the public eye and on the world stage. Political and military officials have often described drones as weapons with “surgical” precision, but as it turns out, explosions aren’t choosy about who they kill.

The Creator puts all those acts — the death and destruction wrought by warfare and military occupation — front and center. In the movie’s universe, NOMAD is a flying monument to America’s ever-present military might and the outsized nature of its response to terrorist threats. The battle station, floating over the world, uses shock and awe to attack small groups of Sims or pockets of New Asian Resistance fighters. American forces destroy entire cities to reach their priority targets. Even tiny skirmishes that cause seemingly minor U.S. losses result in devastating bombing runs, which makes it clear that Americans won’t accept even the smallest defeats lying down, no matter who they hurt in the process.

several floating hoverboats cross a river in The Creator

20th Century Studios

The CreatorIt is then about what America could do to respond in the future after getting by with unregulated aggression, and the costs that were unimaginable during the war on terror. It’s about a world that has already collectively signaled that it values maintaining the status quo — or, at least, avoiding America’s ire — enough to look away from the U.S. waging war on an entire region.

Even the existence of New Asia in the movie implies that other Asian countries, like Japan and China — which have important economic relationships with America — have tried to distance themselves from their neighbors to the south, which have become targets for American aggression. Smaller countries who support the Sims have to fight the U.S. alone.

The Creator might be a big Disney-made blockbuster, but it isn’t subtle about its standpoint on the American military-industrial complex, even beyond the film’s recognizable wartime premise. NOMAD will bomb villages without hesitation, killing hundreds of thousands at once. Tanks crush Sims as well as people in towns built of wood. The only remaining robot combat unit on the U.S. side is a walking, talking bomb that thanks its generals when they command it to go self-destruct behind enemy lines — a not-quite-living embodiment of the military ideal to not question authority.

a young cyborg girl with a shaved head places her hand on a trash-can-like robot bowing to her in The Creator

20th Century Studios

With “U.S. Army” painted on the side of every armament and vehicle of war imaginable, The CreatorThe film is a full-throated, uncomplicated condemnation of U.S. Military that rivals any other studio production in recent years. The film also exposes the void of morality that lies at the core of the U.S.’s right to eliminate anything they deem a threat.

The war against terror has been documented in blockbuster movies. Over the last decade, many superhero movies have used the 9/11 attacks either as an implicit or explicit source of inspiration. But few movies have examined the consequences of that war, and fewer still have shined a light on how America’s hegemony over the world is tied up in military violence.

Edwards and Weitz focus on these themes, focusing their story primarily in the area most affected by the war and only giving brief glimpses to the United States. Early in the movie, we see a vast crater in central Los Angeles; it’s enough for us to believe that Americans felt truly threatened. But after that, we’re left almost exclusively with the death and destruction that the war brings to New Asia.

John David Washington as Joshua, looking up at something off camera with a wooden bridge behind him at sunset in The Creator

20th Century Studios

In that light, the war’s two sides aren’t just unequal — they’re fighting for entirely different things. For the people in New Asia, the conflict isn’t a battle against the U.S., but an attempt to avert eradication. And the war doesn’t end when they defeat the invaders or bring the fight to America; it simply ends when the U.S. military no longer has omnipotent control over them.

In this sci-fi movie, the only country who could win is a government that waged unchecked warfare on an ideology for 20 years and declared its victory. Edwards simply presents a world where the U.S. takes everything one step further, unabashedly invading and occupying an otherwise peaceful country because its laws and its people’s beliefs threaten American power. The CreatorIt is the culmination of more than a decade’s worth of disclosures on American wars, with a questioning about what might come next.

On its face, the film’s central question seems to be a classic one from sci-fi: At what point does an intelligence become advanced enough to be treated like a person? Edwards and Weitz do not present the Sims other than humans. How can you tell? The Creator is really about is imagining a future for America’s quiet empire, where the threat of overwhelming force demands that smaller nations bend to its will. This, Edwards suggests, is what the next century might look like for a country that has already undertaken a war against, as Bush put it in 2001, “a radical network of terrorists, and every government that supports them” — an abstract concept that took 20 years to never fully define.

The CreatorThe movie is now in cinemas.

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