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Film / The Inquest of Pilot Pirx

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The Inquest of Pilot Pirx (Polish: Test pilota Pirxa, Russian: Дознание пилота Пиркса, Estonian: Navigaator Pirx) is a joint Polish-Soviet 1978 adaptation of one of the Tales of Pirx the Pilot by Stanisław Lem, "The Inquest". It was released with Polish, Russian, and Estonian audio tracks.

The world is buzzing as several corporations attempt to start production of perfectly humanoid robots, first and foremost for the spaceships. UNESCO is against the "pseudo-humans" and manages to offer the corporations a deal: give a robotic crew a task in space and let a human captain watch over them, so that later he would make a full review of the robots' abilities. Pirx, an honest and straightforward pilot, famous for being prejudiced against the entire idea, is chosen for the task. However, the crew isn't fully robotic: some of them are humans, and all of them are ordered to say, if asked, that they are human. This leads to Pirx being faced with an Everyone Is a Suspect puzzle, while the real robot on board prepares to sabotage the whole mission.


The Inquest of Pilot Pirx contains examples of:

  • Above Good and Evil: Both the robots admit to serve only their own purposes. Somehow, one of them wants to do it a little more destructively.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Pirx's adventures on Earth are expanded with a robotic corporation subplot.
  • Adaptation Name Change: In the book, co-pilot Harry Brown's real name is Shennan Queen; the film doesn't mention it.
    • The nucleonicist is called Andy Tomson in the book, Kurt Weber in the film.
    • The electronicist is called John Barton in the book, Jan Otis in the film.
    • The neurologist, cyberneticist and doctor Thomas Barns is Tom Nowak in the film.
  • Artificial Intelligence: The whole point of this is an elaborate Turing test.
  • Badass Unintentional: Pirx (as his usual M.O.), who never wanted to get mixed up in all this in the first place.
  • Benevolent A.I.: As United Atomic Laboratory puts it, all their robots are like this. In reality, it's Nowak, possibly, but definitely not Calder.
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  • Canon Foreigner: The plotters from United Atomic Laboratory.
  • The Conspiracy: United Atomic Laboratory's plan to eliminate Pirx and put their own pilot in his place.
  • Courtroom Episode: The titular inquest, held in a Space Court Session Room.
  • Culturally Sensitive Adaptation: The Russian dub removes Brown's admission he believes in God and the discussion of whether robots can do it. Instead, Pirx and Brown discuss whether humans and robots have conscience.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Pirx. That's part of his character in all the short stories.
    McGuirr: You try with all your might to make our task harder.
    Pirx: Obviously, to make my own simpler.
  • Deceptively Human Robots: As stated, that's the point.
  • Don't Celebrate Just Yet: After a spectacular piece of luck getting him out of the Cassini division alive, Pirx still has to avoid going to jail, because Calder was carefully framing him for the entire story.
  • Double Reverse Quadruple Agent: Nowak is a robot who works for no one but himself and pretends to be a human who for humanity's sake pretends to be a robot who works for no one but himself.
  • Driving Question: Who is robot and who is human?
  • Eating Machine: For the fullness of the illusion, robots can eat and drink. Pirx thinks it idiotic.
  • Evil Gloating: Calder's thoughts.
  • Exact Words: Pirx is later accused of not giving the necessary order and therefore allowing Calder to lead the ship to a near-catastrophe. Pirx did try to stop him, but he managed only to say "I don't all..." before Calder shut him up, rapidly speeding up the ship.
  • Gallows Humor: Otis.
    Nowak (beaten by Otis in chess): Revanche after the manoever's end.
    The manoever's Gone Horribly Wrong.
    Otis: Nowak? I think there won't be a revanche.
  • Good All Along: After Calder is finished with, everyone is noticeably less cold towards each other, after several days of suspicions.
  • Hysterical Woman: In-universe. That's the opinion Nowak forms when a female nurse breaks into hysterics after witnessing his Robotic Reveal.
    Pirx: What did you feel then?
    Nowak: I never feel anything. I didn't understand it, and decided it was easier to work with men.
  • I Do Not Drink Wine: Subverted. Pirx intentionally calls drinking alcohol "a human weakness", but when he offers a glass of whiskey to Calder, the latter drinks it.
  • Machine Monotone: The computer that programs the ship's course speaks in a classical version of one.
  • Man Versus Machine: In Calder's opinion, the man will certainly lose the fight. However, Pirx (unintentionally) manages to find a machine's weakness.
  • Mistaken for Evidence: Brown says Otis is a robot because he always sits and stands perfectly still and has no preferences in food and drink.
    • Meanwhile, Weber says Brown is a robot because he must have noticed the place where Weber hid a radioactive detail.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Pirx and Barns/Nowak's long discussion of robotic philosophy is naturally cut down to a few rather primitive phrases. Calder's equally long letter is also cut down to a few very similar sentences. In the book, all this was primarily used to show the differences between Barns/Nowak and Calder, but of course it would have been a bore to watch. The film instead had Nowak providing the vital clue in the courtroom Just in Time and saving the day for Pirx, thus proving himself to be the good guy.
  • Rewatch Bonus: You see it when you know who the robots are. When the ship is speeding up to a hyperbolic speed, all the human faces are visibly pressed down with gravity, while Nowak just leisurely closes his eyes some time afterwards and Calder doesn't even pretend to be bothered.
  • Robotic Psychopath: Calder.
  • Robot Religion: Brown scoffs at the idea of it.
  • Robotic Reveal: Both robots get it. Nowak in a flashback, when he's accidentally cut with a surgical knife. Calder, when he gets dismembered at 14g.
    • Nowak gets it twice. When Pirx is convinced that his behavior during the mission equals an Unrobotic Reveal and shakes his hand, he notices a decidedly unnatural-looking scar from that very surgical knife.
  • The Scottish Trope: During the flight, there's a sort of silent agreement not to mention the word "robot", instead using "not a human".
  • Sheep in Sheep's Clothing: One of Pirx's chief suspects in the beginning is Brown. He is apparently all the things that make a Nice Guy – he's friendly, charming, handsome, popular with girls, honorable (although he doesn't think honor should be applied to robots), religious, and at the same time an extremely capable pilot. In the end, Brown destroys Calder, saves the ship from crashing in the Cassini division, and later stands by Pirx in the courtroom, in spite of Pirx openly showing his distrust during the flight.
  • The Snark Knight: Pirx.
  • Thank the Maker: Nowak thinks it's better to be a robot than not to exist at all. Especially since he thinks humans are laughable.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: In the courtroom, there is an argument on whether thoughts of a robot (recorded on a black box inside it) and thoughts of a human are the same. The judge (agreeing with Pirx's lawyer) decides it's too early to make machine's rights identical to human ones. That eventually saves Pirx from getting jailed for criminal incompetence, as Calder's thoughts are an Evidence Dungeon.
  • Your Normal Is Our Taboo: In the Polish track Pirx asks Brown if he believes in God. In a 1978 Soviet sci-fi film one couldn't have an openly religious good guy, that's why the Russian track has Pirx and Brown discussing the existence of human conscience.


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