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Film / D.A.R.Y.L.

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"General, a machine becomes human when you can’t tell the difference anymore."
Dr. Ellen Lamb

A 1985 Science Fiction film directed by Simon Wincer, starring Mary Beth Hurt, Michael McKean, Kathryn Walker, Colleen Camp, and Barret Oliver in the title role.

A young boy is found wandering without any memory of who he is. A family takes him in and begin to look for clues to help him find his way home.

In the meantime, they notice that D.A.R.Y.L.note  seems to have certain special abilities, not usually found in kids his age, or even fully-grown adults.

D.A.R.Y.L provides examples of:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Inverted. The expected Super-Soldier becomes a kind human being.
  • A.I.-cronym: D.A.R.Y.L. stands for Data Analyzing Robot Youth Lifeform, which is a longer way of saying Robot Kid.
  • Armies Are Evil: The military is the main antagonist of the movie, wanting to destroy Daryl and build an adult Super-Soldier version without the human emotions that Daryl demonstrates like friendship and fear.
  • Artificial Human: Daryl has an artificially grown organic body almost identical to a human body. He eats, sleeps and even grows. What makes him robotic is his computer brain.
  • Artificial Intelligence: Daryl is a robot brain in a kid's body. The thing that surprises even his creators is how quickly he started to develop such things as a preference for a specific ice cream flavor from interacting with the Richardson family.
  • Award-Bait Song: "Somewhere I Belong" as performed by the late Teddy Pendergrass with music by the late Marvin Hamlisch and lyric by Dean Pitchford — neither a stranger to this.
  • Badass Driver: Daryl learns how to become one by watching a TV show about a stunt driver, and demonstrates these skills during a Chase Scene on the interstate.
  • Baseball Episode: Daryl's foster parent is a baseball coach, so when Daryl demonstrates that he is an Instant Expert with batting, Daryl is put on the team for the Big Game against the Opposing Sports Team that has always beaten them in the past. Daryl's batting skills givens his team an early lead, but when he quits, it comes Down to the Last Pitch, and Turtle makes the winning hit.
  • Car Skiing: Daryl does this when driving through heavy traffic.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Seeing a stunt driver show on TV makes Daryl a Badass Driver on the climax, and having a conversation with the pilots of the plane that will take him back to the project lab makes him a good enough one to steal an SR-71.
  • Cool Big Sis: Turtle's older sister likes video games (the system is in her room) and gets along well enough with DARYL well enough that she runs up to the car before he leaves. That being said, her character could be removed without impacting the plot, so it's possible she exists merely to appeal to the teenage crowd.
  • Cool Car: Dr. Stewart's 1985 Ford LTD LX sedan is basically a civilian version of the Ford LTD police cruiser. He smuggles Daryl out underneath the backseat, and Daryl himself drives the car like he stole it to elude their pursuers. They're later forced to leave the car behind at a farmer's house after running out of gas and take an older truck. They leave a note apologizing for the trouble, tell the truck's owner that he can keep the car and leave him $10 for the gas.
    Dr. Stewart: [opening the truck's hood to hotwire it] Oh boy. He's getting one hell of a deal.
  • Cool Plane: The SR-71, which in Real Life could not be started on the ground without a large and complex "starter cart" to spin the engines to speed and took off with very little fuel due to leaky fuselage tanks at normal temperature, being filled up with fuel in flight.
  • Cranial Processing Unit: It is his robotic brain which makes Daryl a robot, and it is located in his skull where a normal brain would be. When he seemingly drowns at the climax, Turtle points out that a robot brain can't drown to assure the rest of his family that Daryl is only undergoing a Disney Death... and sure enough, Daryl shows up shortly afterwards, having Waken Up at the Morgue.
  • Creepy Child: Not quite creepy in a scary or uncomfortable way, but Daryl's foster mother seems to be upset that he is too perfect and doesn't really seem to need a mother's care.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: The Youth Lifeform project has cloned a human body and put an electronic brain into it. These are huge steps, but the military is just interested in destroying Daryl and getting a Super-Soldier.
  • Emergent Human: Daryl develops the ability to feel emotions, express subjective preferences, make friendships, empathize with other people, enjoys things like ice cream and baseball, et cetera.
  • Escaped from the Lab: Daryl escapes from the laboratory he was created in.
  • Everytown, America: The place where Daryl ends up living with his Muggle Foster Parents. At least some of the scenes were filmed in Orlando, Florida.
  • Fun with Acronyms: Data-Analyzing Robot Youth Life-form, or DARYL.
  • Good with Numbers: Not surprisingly, considering that he has a robotic computer for a brain, Daryl can do very advanced mathematics with little effort.
  • Happily Adopted: The implied fate of Daryl, who manages to escape government custody a second time, convince the government he is destroyed, and returns to the Richardson family.
  • Identity Amnesia: Daryl has the knowledge of his real identity and robotic nature blocked at the beginning of the film, making him think he is just a normal boy with amnesia.
  • I Know Mortal Kombat: Daryl is an expert at all electronic games. This is partially because he has lightning-fast reflexes, but partially because he can hack directly into the video games. He eventually uses these abilities to hijack an SR-71 Blackbird.
  • Initialism Title: It being the acronym to the project that created Daryl, or rather the "Data Analyzing Robot Youth Lifeform".
  • Instant Expert: Daryl with just about everything he does.
  • Meat-Sack Robot: One could say that Daryl is a Cyborg in that he mixes organic and robotic parts, but the robotic part is not an addition to an already existing human. He is a computer brain placed in an organic body (how they actually made the body isn't much touched on).
  • Motherly Scientist: Dr. Stewart, Daryl's creator, is the first one to accept his humanity and decides to free him so he can return with his adoptive family. A female colleague of his, Dr. Lamb, is reluctant at first but later embraces the child's humanity and collaborates with the unfortunately-failed escape.
  • Muggle Best Friend: Turtle to Daryl. A good part of his emergent personality comes from such simple interactions as Turtle letting him taste different ice cream flavors.
  • Muggle Foster Parents: Daryl was originally raised and created in a lab, but when he is found beside a road with no memory of who he is, he is mistaken for a normal child and put in foster care with Joyce and Andy Richardson.
  • Odd Reaction Out: When Daryl is ordered decommissioned and the scientists reluctantly destroy his robotic brain, the memory banks representing back-ups of his identity are also ordered erased, so no one can "revive" Daryl later. As the army general who ordered the decommissioning is confirming everything is wiped, the memory banks report they are indeed empty, except the final one.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Turtle, apparently. It's not clear if this is his real name, but it's unlikely that it's his given name.
  • Precision F-Strike: Like so many other family films in The '80s, this one also has its share of profanity.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: Daryl, both in appearance and personality. He's easily mistaken for a human, even when examined by a doctor.
  • Road Block: While making their escape, Daryl and Dr. Stewart spot one up ahead; it's just one car and one cop, but as Stewart points out, that's enough. Daryl sneaks out of the truck; while Stewart bluffs his way past the cop, Daryl removes all the fuses, keys and radio microphone from his car, ensuring that he can't follow them if he realizes anything's up. Unfortunately there's a second block just up the road, and the first cop, having spotted Daryl fleeing from the scene, had warned the second one that they were coming. The truck smashes its way through, but Stewart is fatally shot in the process.
  • Robot Kid: Daryl — or at least, the "robot" part is his brain.
  • Sacrificed Basic Skill for Awesome Training: Not exactly. It's more of a case of having lots of Awesome Training but not the one particular set of Awesome Training needed at the moment. When Dr. Stewart is shot and dying, Daryl expresses regret that he was never given medical programming that would have allowed him to save Stewart's life. Tear Jerker time.
  • Science Is Bad: Subverted, if not inverted. The scientists who created Daryl are the ones arguing that he has become more than an experiment, and that shutting him down would be equivalent to murder.
  • Scientist vs. Soldier: The third act twist is the revelation that the Department of Defense (which footed the bill for the D.A.R.Y.L. Project) gives absolutely zero shits about his emergent personality (and any potential benefits that this could provide, such as teaching future generations of the project how to become better infiltrators) and want him killed, and the project team to immediately get to work on creating an adult version that will be a fearless super-skilled soldier.
  • Super-Intelligence: Daryl presents the appearance of having this, although it turns out to be more of a case of Super-Artificial Intelligence.
  • Super-Reflexes: Daryl turns out to be very good at reflexive stuff like baseball.
  • Super-Soldier: The Youth Lifeform project was a prototype for a military adult super-soldier project.
  • Technopath: Daryl has the ability to easily take over any computer system and make it do whatever he wants, even if it is beyond the original design of the system. For example, he uses an ATM machine to increase the balance of his foster father dramatically.
  • Television Geography: The only thing that it's pretty sure is that the film takes place someplace on the East Coast. Aside from that, it remains pretty vague.
  • The Trap Parents: Subverted. Dr. Stewart and Dr. Lamb are Daryl's creators, so they technically count as his parents, but with the military interested in replacing Daryl with a Super-Soldier of sorts, they decide to send him back to the Richardsons.
  • Wetware Body: Daryl is an artificially grown organic body with a computer for a brain.
  • What a Piece of Junk: Dr. Stewart laments giving up his brand-new LTD for an older and rather worse-for-wear-looking Ford pickup, but the truck proves itself to the protagonists. It even serves as a battering ram at a police roadblock and keeps going, suffering only minor damage. The police car it rams into has its rear wheel broken off the axle, disabling it.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: The military has no problems with thinking of Daryl as a simple machine, easily disposed of without any moral qualms. However, the scientists who created him come to view him as having real personhood and equal value to a human.