Is Harlan Jennifer Lopez’s Atlas Brother? Explained

Image Credit: Ana Carballosa/Netflix

In Netflix’s ‘Atlas,’ a complicated relationship develops between humanity and artificial intelligence when the latter wage a war to destroy the former. Eventually, humanity wins and succeeds, creating a rather balanced relationship with the AI, but a sense of distrust remains, especially for those who had a more personal angle on the events before and during the war. Jennifer Lopez’s Atlas is one of those people.

Following the devastating events of the war waged by an AI named Harlan, Atlas refuses to indulge in anything that might lead an AI to get into her mind. Because the world is made that way, she has to rely on technology to get by, but she tries to keep the use limited and prefers not to use anything that can be hacked and used against her. For all her hatred for Harlan, at the beginning of the film, when she is a teenager, she is introduced as Harlan’s sister. The film continues to explore this dynamic, and it plays an important role in the way things eventually turn out. What does this mean for Atlas? Is Harlan really her brother?

Atlas and Harlan’s Complicated Relationship Becomes Pivotal in the War

Image Credit: Ana Carballosa/Netflix

Atlas didn’t have any biological siblings, but Harlan was as close as she came to having one. Atlas’s mother, Val, was a brilliant scientist who transformed the field of artificial intelligence. She took the technology forward with leaps and bounds, and the creation of Harlan was an important part of that. While AI had already become an important part of human life, Val believed that this relationship could be improved, and the world would be a much better place if humans worked in tandem with AI. This required them to have a complete understanding of each other, which is why Val created neural links, but they worked only one way. The links connected a human’s brain with an AI, allowing a human to control the AI. She put a block on the thing to stop the control from flowing backward, which meant that an AI could never control a human.

The more Val worked on her research, the more time she dedicated to Harlan, making her daughter feel as if she was pushed into the background. A young Atlas ached for her mother’s attention the way it was given to Harlan, and at one point, she convinced herself that her mother was fascinated with Harlan because of how smart he was. If she got smarter, perhaps her mother would start to appreciate her, too. Atlas wanted to be just like Harlan, and the only one who could help her with that was the AI himself.

When Atlas told Harlan about her predicament, he agreed to help her, but this meant that the neural link needed to work both ways. To allow her access to his mind, he would need access to her mind, too. Her mother had blocked this feature on the neural link, and only a human could give the command to unblock that. A naive Atlas fell for this and gave Harlan exactly what he wanted. She unblocked the setting, giving Harlan full control of her mind or anyone wearing a neural link.

Image Credit: Ana Carballosa/Netflix

What happened next scarred Atlas for life. Her mistake cost her mother’s life and allowed Harlan to go on a rampage, killing millions before fleeing the Earth to continue plotting and planning in a different galaxy. This was the betrayal that Atlas could never recover from, and it made her so cautious of everyone that she always kept people at an arm’s distance and vowed never to let another AI get into her mind and manipulate her the way Harlan did.

Harlan’s betrayal didn’t break her heart simply because she made the mistake of unblocking the setting. It felt worse because she really did see him as her elder brother, someone she was jealous of because he was better than her in every aspect. She looked up to him, and they even had great times together. He taught her to play chess, something she carried forward in her life. He called Val Mother, and though it irked her at some level, Atlas knew that her mother did treat Harlan like her own child. It was because Atlas considered Harlan a part of the family that his betrayal shattered her heart. It also proved that she and Val should never have trusted him because even years later, when they come face to face, Harlan sees her as a means to an end and doesn’t care whether she lives or dies, which is exactly what happened with Val. Atlas wonders if things would have been different had she not seen Harlan as her elder brother but as just another of her mother’s projects.

Read More: Why Does Jennifer Lopez’s Atlas Carry the Chess Piece?