BY ALISON CHURCH
One of the most widely talked about animated television shows on Netflix known as, “Love, Death and Robots,” has been a subject for debate over its quality of animation and content. The 18 episode show consists of a collection of short stories showcasing different art styles and ideas that have received both applause and criticism. One question the show explores is how one defines what it means to be human. Some argue that it is our capability to comprehend emotion and life purpose. Some argue that it is our capacity for love, while others argue that it is the acceptance that all things must come to an end. This concept is thoughtfully explored in an episode titled “Zima Blue” directed by Robert Valley and produced by Passion Animation Studios executive producer Cara Speller. The episode follows the story of a robot named Zima whose initial purpose to clean his creator’s swimming pool transforms into his journey across the universe as an artist who defies time due to the thing that separates him from humans- his ability to outlive death. “Zima Blue” has proven itself to be one of the most philosophical episodes in the series, causing many viewers to reflect on the struggles we all face to attain wisdom, purpose, love, and freedom from time and death.
After Zima’s creator programs decision making and a conscious brain into Zima, she dies and leaves Zima to become further aware of his place in the universe. Humans worship Zima’s ability to dream up art that is ever increasing in complexity and size, and even stretches out to as far as the planets; as he explores the cosmos in search of his answers, he realizes that the universe has a silent purpose of its own. A reporter who seeks to understand Zima’s reasoning for placing his signature blue square in every art piece he’s created attempts to get to the bottom of his mystery. Zima starts out as a simple pool cleaner, but his hunger to be more than just a functioning robot grows as he is given the luxury of time to achieve his desires. His growing power, fame, and influence as an artist are all obtained through his pursuit of life purpose. When creating Zima’s character, Valley reports that he “made Zima about eleven heads tall with huge hands, thinking this all looked perfectly normal…he should look like Miles Davis with the body of Usain Bolt…Those intense, staring, Mile Davis eyes I thought would be perfect for Zima.”
So many viewers can connect to Zima’s character because of his primary human trait which is his search for purpose while given generations of time to think and create anything. As that is something we all crave for ourselves but know we cannot attain because life is short, the viewer is instantly sucked into the possibility of having an infinity of time to discover who they are. We desire more time to figure our lives out, to gain knowledge, and to know and feel all – but life does not wait for us. Zima is given this gift by simply being created as a robot not programmed to feel or to dream, to love or to die. When asked in an interview whether there were any particular difficult challenges the producer and director faced when adapting the story, Valley responded: “Somehow we had to take a 20 page short story and cut it down to 8 or 9 minutes of screen time. That was a difficult task because there were so many interesting bits of the original story we had to cut out…We wanted to stay as true to Alistair Reynold’s story as possible.”
At Zima’s core he is a blank slate or a symbol of most people when they are born. People are born with infinite potential, and with the urge to know all the answers to life’s mysteries. Zima grows to find by the end of his self exploration, that the human heart and soul that he sought throughout his long life had been laid before him in the moment that he was first created. As he allows his whole self and journey to be undone in his final art show case to the world, his strength to surrender to the inevitable arrival of death and to return to his origins are beautifully displayed as his body parts disassemble and reassemble in a swimming pool into once again, a simple cleaning robot. Throughout the long stretch of time he was given, he found the most meaning in the simplicity of his start, and the lack of desire to question the nature of everything. His signature blue square is a reminder of staying true to his nature and self. The episode shows how youth, innocence, and ignorant bliss are arguably more satisfying ways to live than those who are on a constant mission to try and pinpoint the meaning of life and analyze the ways of the universe.
The reason why so many not only found themselves moved by this episode, but also pondering their own lives is because of the final feeling it evokes in the audience. It provides the audience with a sense of closure with Zima’s realization that in leaving behind his purest form of himself to the world, he had found true peace within and was able to accept death. For many of us, death is our greatest fear, for we fear the vague and unknown and want to get to the bottom of all our questions. Zima achieves this, and his humanistic search and ability to know all corners of the universe gives him the strength to let himself give in to death finally, and to realize that life is not a race. “Zima Blue” has proven itself to be both thought provoking and visually appealing. Because it effectively connects its message to the audience and aligns Zima’s philosophy that beauty and contentment can be found in the simplest things laid before us, this episode stands out as one of the most memorable and worthwhile episodes to watch among the series.