Warning: Contains SPOILERS for Kimi.
HBO Max’s Kimi may seem to have an outlandish story, but upon further inspection, the film is far more fact than fiction as the film is based on a real-life legal case in Arkansas. The idea of a murder being recorded on a Google Home or Amazon Alexa may sound like sci-fi, but something scarily close to that already has happened several years ago. At first glance, Kimi may seem like a fantastic but outlandish thriller, but as it turns out the story is far from impossible. It’s loosely based on the Amazon Arkansas case, although despite what some believe it’s not a true-to-life recreation of events.
Kimi follows Angela Childs (Zoë Kravitz), a tech-worker who resolves communication bugs for Kimis, a fictional counterpart to smart home devices like the aforementioned Google Home and Amazon Alexa. Angela turns detective in Kimi when she discovers a killer. While listening to one recording, Angela hears what sounds like a woman crying for help. After messing with the audio, she realizes that the woman had her throat violently slit, so she decides to find the killer. The identity of Kimi’s killer remains vague throughout most of the film as Angela tries her hardest to unfold the murder case. Angela decides that the best course of action is to make the murder known, so she takes the recording to her bosses at Amygdala, the corporation that created the Kimi line of products. In doing this, Angela accidentally stumbles onto a massive conspiracy that may cost Angela her life in order to uncover.
The Netflix True Crime output is pretty dominant, but HBO’s Kimi ticked all of its own True Crime boxes and created a lot of speculation online. While watching Kimi, some viewers may question how this situation would work logistically, wondering if a company would be legally required to turn over recordings that are meant to be private. However, this question has already been debated in a court of law. According to the AP, a real Amazon Arkansas legal case inspired the film, and it serves as a platform for Kimi’s deep dive into thought-provoking topics through a lens that’s just as interesting as other murder mysteries and true crime shows. In fact, many questions regarding the ideas brought up in Kimi have already been discussed in association with a real 2015 death of a man in Arkansas, in which some evidence involved an Amazon Echo.
What Happened In The Real-Life Kimi Case?
Kimi is loosely inspired by the real-life Amazon Arkansas case (and, thankfully, Kimi isn’t an Amazon Prime movie, which would be a little in poor taste). On a night in 2015, James Bates decided to have several friends over for a night of drinking and watching college football. Once the games were over, the men decided to get in Bate’s hot tub. At around 1 a.m., Bates left for bed, with former Georgia police officer Victor Collins remaining in the water. The next morning, Collins was found floating dead in the hot tub. James Bates was swiftly charged with first-degree murder and put on trial for Collins’ death. The case soon drew national attention, though, when one of the men recalled hearing music from an Amazon Echo the night of the alleged murder. Realizing that Echos are designed to listen for voice commands, the court requested the recordings from that night be turned over by Amazon. Despite the product being likened by some to Terminator’s Skynet and other fictional AI, Amazon unsurprisingly declined the court’s request but eventually handed it over when Bates volunteered the information. This, along with other evidence, helped create enough reasonable doubt for the charges to get dropped, with the court deciding that Bates did not murder Collins.
What Kimi Changed About The Amazon Arkansas Case
While it turned out not to have recorded an actual murder, the case of this Amazon Echo was interesting enough to prompt the creation of Steven Soderbergh’s Kimi. The film takes the concept a step further, exploring what would happen if the tech company was actually involved in the crime and subsequent cover-up. The film even mentions the case, stating that it created a precedent that requires Amygdala to turn over the recordings to the FBI. Though the true story may not be as exciting as the film’s adaptation (a similarity it shares with series like Mindhunter), the ideas Kimi explores would not exist without the tragic death of a man in Arkansas.
Kimi exemplifies the importance of knowing the difference between dramatization and narratives that are directly based on/inspired by real-life events. Kimi is loosely inspired by the Amazon Arkansas case and subsequent lawsuit, but it was never billed as a true-to-life recreation. Significant changes have been made to every element of the story, the largest of which being that the story of Kimi directly implicates their Amazon facsimile in the criminal proceedings. The Arkansas Amazon case isn’t the only example of recording devices being used as evidence, either, and it will likely become more common as Echoes, Alexas, and similar tech see wider adoption. However, because of the similarities between Kimi’s premise and the 2015 Amazon Arkansas lawsuit, many mistakenly believed Kimi was a dramatization (it’s more like Saw: a true story inspiring a totally fictional one). It isn’t “the movie of the Arkansas Amazon case,” since charges in the real-life case were dropped and the accused proved innocent. In Kimi, a murder most definitely happens.