The best elements of sci-fi take what is nearly true now and explore a logical conclusion of where that might go in the future. How would we cope if artificial intelligence achieved sentience? When we are addicted to mobile phones, what does this do to our empathy? Or, as Ad Vitam asks, what happens to a world when we conquer death?
Ad Vitam is a French production that intertwines a social exploration of indefinitely prolonged life through ‘regeneration’, and investigation of a spate of youth suicides. Through medical breakthroughs involving jellyfish DNA, the ability to regenerate (and stop the aging process entirely) is now common. Adults seem to be able to keep on going: episode one features a 169th birthday celebration. In that respect, it's quite similar to Altered Carbon.
But the process isn’t compatible for everyone, and can’t begin until at minimum the age of 30. Therefore the legal age of ‘adulthood’ has been moved up from 18 to 30, leaving behind a disaffected youth that is condescended to by a society made up of an increasing number of centenarians. As a think piece, this set up is full of rich potential.
Yet, despite being very well made and shot with clear skill, Ad Vitam never really digs deep into the rich well it seems to have found. The languid pace should leave plenty of time to get into the nitty-gritty of a society consisting of unaging adults ever distancing from the younger generation, yet whilst plenty of ideas are thrown at the wall (“do we even need children anymore?” asks one incidental character) the concept just floats behind the main plot. Even an upcoming referendum on future birth control is barely brought up. In shows such as Humans, the legality and wider society is really tapped into. In Ad Vitam, it’s silently floating behind glass.
The main plot consists of the apparent return of a suicide cult. 10 years before a group of under 30s gathered in a stadium and shot themselves in the head in protest of being left behind by society. Now, bodies are found washed up on a beach, indicating that the movement may still be inspiring the young to take their own lives. Detective Darius, close to retirement after 100 years on the force, enlists the help of sullen original survivor, Christa, in infiltrating the group and trying to prevent more death.
Christa (Garance Marillier) is by far the best part of the show. Her surly attitude is perfectly understandable and her interactions with the rest of the cast result in plenty of great dialogue scenes. Darius (Yvan Attal) does a good job with the script he’s given. Sure, he imbues plenty of weary cop intelligence into proceedings but he’s hampered by the plot again bringing up elements that it never commits to exploring. His wife wants children and he is avoiding it due to the death of his son from a previous relationship. For such an emotive motivation to land we need to see it worked through, not simply flitted past whenever some gaps need to be filled.
Ad Vitam somehow manages to drag over the course of only six 55 minute episodes. If you stick with it then the slow reveal of hidden conspiracies and plot twists do make for an interesting watch. But when the central hook of eternal life isn’t satisfyingly explored, your enjoyment of the show will depend on how much time you want to spend with its characters. Sure, Ad Vitam looks great and puts on a pretty face, but behind the visage is it just stagnating?
Words by Michael Record