The third issue of the action–packed Netflix animated series for adults is “Love, Death and Robots. Most episodes of the show are adaptations of existing stories, but “The Very Pulse of the Machine” carries on its sleeve literary inspiration — the eponymous story by author Michael Swanwick.
During a mission to Io, a moon of Jupiter, two astronauts crash their ROVER, leaving one to return to base under the influence of a large dose of painkillers to ease her injuries. When she remembers a series of classical poems and begins to hallucinate (or maybe not), she begins to receive messages from the planet itself, guiding her if her mind can be trusted.
Leaning towards the themes of exploration and loneliness, “The Very Pulse of the Machine” is a rather esoteric episode with a lot of questions about the nature of life and the mysteries of what really happens to Martha Kivelson (Mackenzie Davis). Director Emily Dean met with Screen Rant to discuss the episode and answer a few questions about how it came about and what it all means.
Screen Rant: I really liked “The Very Pulse of The Machine”. I hadn’t read the story before, but it made me go back and read the story, and then come back and watch the short film. And I thought they were complimentary in so many ways that I really appreciate it.
Emily Dean: Very cool. Yeah. Thanks.
I know that there is a strong influence of Mobius in animation. Obviously, he really had a great influence on many different genres of science fiction, various artistic styles and other things. But I thought it was really interesting, because in a roundabout way or a very direct way, I think, depending on how you outline it, his influence on heavy metal very much led to love, death and robots. Was it discussed at all when he used it as a source of inspiration?
Emily Dean: 100 percent. From the very first meeting I attended and had an introductory meeting with the whole team in May 2019, three years ago, I said that I would really like to write a love letter to Mobius, and I think that’s really what piqued their interest. And it had a big impact on the fact that I was invited to read all the stories they did for the second volume, because initially this passage was supposed to be part of the second volume, but obviously it was a pandemic, and that’s it, and the process took a long time, so it became part of the third volume.
But when I read “The Pulse of the Machine Itself”, I felt that it was the perfect combination of these two influences. The story of Michael Swanwick served as an excellent basis for the use of visual effects from Mobius.
I thought it was really interesting because I liked the little Easter egg that you had there with an old book of poems about the Earth that is attributed to Michael Swanwick. But I came back to pause this to clarify, to make sure I was right, because it was just quick to catch on, and I noticed that you actually have a real story written inside this book.
Emily Dean: Yes! It was a little Easter egg that we came up with, and Michael also said it was a fun idea. Wow. Did you really pause it and read the text? It’s amazing.
At first I didn’t realize the text was legible because I just stopped to check the cover, but I thought it was really brilliant. Also, I don’t know if you had any meta-sense in it, but I think given the context of the story…
Emily Dean: There may be a reading option where, yes, it’s all part of this story. It’s amazing.
You said that, in your opinion, Swanwick and this story go well with Mobius. So I was very curious, since Swanwick’s story relies so heavily on other poetic and literary references, how does this then affect your approach to the decision, how to display it visually to make sure that such a feeling can be seen and understood? not just present in the text?
Emily Dean: Yes, that’s a wonderful thing about poetry, it’s that it evokes memories and doesn’t have a literal meaning, if you know what I mean. It should make emotional sense. So using poetry actually freed us up visually as well to create visual poetry, but it really helped us uncover the narrative and do a lot of experimentation.
I do not know if you can see by comparing the story with the movie that the movie is a little different and it omits some parts but includes some other parts. That’s because we actually did a version at the very beginning that pretty much directly told the story of Michael Swanwick. And in the second pass in production or pre-production at the storyboard stage, we thought, what else could it be? Let’s strengthen the story. Let’s take this further than just a story.