It’s nice to have company after the world ends.
Sure, Finch Weinberg was never exactly a people person. The inventor always preferred to work alone. But after a solar flare tore through space and took out most everything, even Finch got a little lonely. So when he happened across an equally lonely little dog, he decided to take the little guy home with him—home being the deep innards of Tae Technologies, his old workplace.
He names the pooch Goodyear, but he just calls him “Dog.” Because what good are names these days? It’s not like Dog will be confused with another dog.
The two live together in, if not comfort, at least a little peace and maybe even happiness. Finch provides the food and the water and the frequent belly rubs, and Dog provides the—well, sanity, I suppose.
Finch builds another companion of sorts, too: Dewey, a crawling robot made to go with Finch on his scavenging runs. Together, Finch and Dewey head into St. Louis’ blasted, scorching streets, looking for a stray can of dog food or package of noodles that other scavengers haven’t picked over, while Dog waits for his master back home.
But even though Finch wears a radiation suit to protect against the sun’s lethal rays, it isn’t enough. Finch is sick. He won’t be around much longer. And when he’s gone, what will happen Dog?
So Finch gets to work. He knows computers. He knows robotics. He has all the equipment he needs and a city full of raw supplies. He begins to build his replacement—the greatest robot the world has ever seen; a robot most of the world didn’t live to see. Its duties will be simple: Feed Dog. Play with Dog. Care for Dog when Finch is gone. Now, as his own life comes to a close, Dog’s life is what matters to Finch the most.
Yes, it’s nice to have company after the world ends. And Finch is going to make sure that Dog has it.
We get only a few glimpses of what Finch must’ve been like before that solar flare took out most of humanity. But I suspect in some ways, he’s a better man now. He clearly cares for Dog, when most of his fellow survivors would’ve probably just eaten the canine. And he’s strangely careful to preserve what civilization is left—both in himself and in the outside world. When he takes his (mostly) functioning robot out for the robot’s first scavenging run, Finch tells the robot to “never willfully destroy someone else’s property,” as if the shopkeeper might return tomorrow with a set of keys.
But Finch’s humanity sees its apex as he tries to teach his new robot—Jeff, the robot names himself—how to be a bit more human himself. While Finch was likely a never a father before the apocalypse struck, he is one now, teaching Jeff how to walk, how to drive and, especially, how to care for Dog. It’s not as easy as you’d think, especially since Dog is a little suspicious of this galumphing metal biped.
Jeff is a deeply caring galumphing biped, though, and it’s clear that he’s growing beyond his programming. As Finch gets sicker, Jeff takes on more responsibilities and cares for his creator almost like a mother would.
He’s not perfect, of course: He’s still learning about the world around him, and he makes plenty of mistakes. The stress of being a dad to this surprisingly sensitive creation takes a toll on Finch, too. “I know you were born yesterday, but it’s time for you to grow up!” Finch yells at him.
But Jeff’s innocence and more gracious view of the world and humankind is a welcome counterpoint to Finch’s jaded cynicism. And before the movie’s credits roll, we’re left to wonder whether Jeff might’ve taught Finch just as much as Finch taught Jeff.
Any robot with sophisticated enough programming can appear to be a living, sentient being. But Jeff goes beyond that: We know it because Jeff tells Finch that he dreams.
Synthetic-but-sentient beings beg a whole bevy of spiritual questions about life and the immortal soul and whatnot. And perhaps that’s especially true when Jeff seems significantly “better” than at least a good chunk of the humans who survive (but whom we don’t actually see).
Finch sits naked in the shower, and we see him from the side. (His most critical bits of anatomy are hidden from view.)
Other humans besides Finch survived the solar flare—but Finch cautions that they’re no one you’d want to meet. In flashback, we see (or rather hear) two people gunned down by someone. Another survivor apparently sets a bear trap around some scavengible items; it’s set off with unfortunate consequences. Finch, Jeff and Dog—driving in a big RV—are followed by a car whose passengers seem to have bad intentions.
Finch runs across a corpse or two and plows over deserted cars in a dump truck. We see someone cremated. A gigantic storm does some serious damage to Finch’s RV (but it could’ve been much worse). Finch holds out his hand under the exposed sun. He suffers a bad burn—purposefully trying to show Jeff how dangerous the sun (and by extension the rest of the world) is to him and Dog.
Finch is suffering from radiation sickness, and he sometimes coughs up blood or has nosebleeds.
Three s-words (along with one instance of Jeff mispronouncing the word rather badly) and one use apiece of “h—” and “d–n.” Finch does recall thinking that his old workmates were “knuckleheads.”
Finch scavenges a bottle of liquor, a dollop of which he enjoys in a coffee cup (and mixed with some water).
Finch vomits out of camera’s view, and he coughs up blood in another scene. He tells Jeff that the world is what it is because of humankind’s worst inclinations. “The flare didn’t finish us off,” he says. “We did that ourselves.”
We learn that Finch’s dad took off before Finch was born. Dog urinates on Jeff’s leg.
The end of the world is a big deal. No wonder that so many movies about it spend money as if there was no tomorrow. From Army of the Dead to War for the Planet of the Apes, Hollywood’s Armageddons are big, bombastic and, some would say, bloated.
Except for Finch—the story of a man, a dog and a robot. That’s it. And it works.
Part of that is because the man in question is played by Tom Hanks. No one makes the end of the world seem so likable. Part of it is the incredibly sympathetic robot his character builds. If only most teens could be both so considerate and so expressive.
And that leads to the movie’s core charm and most important attribute: This is, really, a movie about family. It’s a story about the lessons we parents teach our kids, the frustrations we feel and what, sometimes, our kids end up teaching us. It’s just that in this case, the kid happens to be a robot that can lift an RV off its wheels.
Finch, while not free of issues, is more restrained than you might expect. A thimbleful of s-words is less than we hear in most superhero flicks. We do see Finch naked from the side, but it’s done not to titillate, but to emphasize the character’s vulnerability.
Finch was originally set to release in theaters last October. COVID forced several delays and, finally, a move to Apple TV+. The service has now been the beneficiary of two quality Tom Hanks movies (the other being the World War II drama Greyhound).
It’s the theater world’s loss. In this film, we can see a little bit of hope at the end of the world, a little humanity in an inhuman robot.
And on any screen, big or small, that’s nice to see.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.