The story is set in an alternative British past (1982) with technology and artificial intelligence far superior to our own, and centers on the relationship between an unsuccessful man named Charlie and his expensively rendered humanoid companion, Adam. The humanoid can reason, have sex, and causes a lot of trouble between Charlie and his love interest, Miranda. Historical figures like scientist Alan Turing make cameo appearances, and various subplots drawing on real historical events, such as war in the Falklands, emerge. But the central focus is the question of moral reasoning. Is it purely a human tool, or can we design and upload it to human-like creatures?
The title Manila in the Claws of Light, available for streaming on the Criterion Channel, is an awkward translation from the original Tagalog (Maynila, Sa Mga Uko Ng Liwanag). It’s sometimes referred to as “Manila in the Claws of Neon” or “Manila in the Claws of Darkness”—and either of those unofficial titles conveys a better sense of this remarkable movie, by Lino Brocka, about wickedness in a brutal city, the Manila of the 1970s.