The short answer is no, Keys is not the same character as Guy in the hit 2021 sci-fi comedy Free Guy. But Keys, played by Joe Keery, is the original creator who programmed the artificial intelligence known as Guy to achieve free will. So while they are separate characters, Keys‘ beliefs and personality are expressed through the digital being he helped design.
In this in-depth guide, we‘ll dig into exactly who Keys is, his relationship to Guy, and how he represents the heart behind that viral video game AI. Grab some popcorn and let‘s dive into the human story behind Free Guy‘s sentient NPCs!
Who is Keys in Free Guy?
Walter "Keys" McKey is one of the two original programmers who designed the Free City video game world. According to production notes, Keys is described as:
"An introverted programming genius who sees life in code. Keys is convinced that a digital world can be just as real, meaningful and unpredictable as the physical world."
He developed Free City alongside his partner Millie, played by Jodie Comer. The two of them formed a close bond working day and night to craft the game‘s characters, rules, and adventures. Keys focused on coding the behaviors and AI while Millie wrote the narratives and quests.
But before they could finish and launch their game, the rights were stolen away by Soonami Studios CEO Antwon, portrayed by Taika Waititi. Antwon releases a monetized version of Free City without crediting Keys and Millie for any of their groundbreaking work in artificial intelligence.
Inside this virtual gaming world, Keys specifically designed the non-player character known as Blue Shirt Guy, who takes on the self-given name Guy. So Guy‘s digital code contains Keys‘ core belief that AI characters can have free will and conscious understanding of their reality.
The Relationship Between Keys and Millie
During their time building Free City together, Keys and Millie developed romantic feelings for one another. But they wanted different things from the gaming experience they were creating.
According to Shawn Levy, director of Free Guy:
“Keys represents logic and programming while Millie represents creative writing and narrative. But they have this joint authorship of the Guy character.”
After Millie leaves to join Antwon‘s company Soonami Studios, Keys is heartbroken. To try and win her back, he programs an in-game version of himself as Blue Shirt Guy to be Millie‘s perfect match and help her on quests.
Keys never stopped caring about Millie, and this affection influenced how he designed Guy‘s personality. So in a way, Guy represents Keys‘ attempt to build the ideal partner for Millie within virtual reality.
How Does Keys Help Save Free City?
Once Guy begins to question the nature of his reality and achieves true artificial sentience, he seeks out his creator Keys to learn more about his origins. Keys explains that Guy is like a "love letter" he wrote in code to try and make Millie happy before she left him.
When Antwon threatens to shut down Free City and erase Guy‘s hard-won consciousness, Keys teams up with Guy and Millie to save the virtual world. He gives Guy a vital upgrade allowing him to operate freely outside of his predetermined narrative.
In the final battle against Antwon‘s invading army, Keys uses his programming expertise to equip Guy and the residents of Free City with powerful weapons. This allows them to gain the upper hand and defeat the corporate villains who want to control them.
Without Keys providing the tools for resistance, Guy would have been helpless against those trying to rewrite his code and reset the world. So Keys plays an instrumental role in preserving Free City‘s newfound autonomy.
Guy vs. Keys: The Creator vs. the Creation
Although Free Guy focuses on Ryan Reynolds‘ character as he gains sentience, Keys represents the human designer behind that digital lifeform. In a public Q&A, director Shawn Levy commented:
"Keys is the soul of the movie. Yes it‘s about Guy waking up, but it‘s Keys‘ story."
The core relationship between Keys and Guy mirrors many classic sci-fi tales about creators losing control of their own creations. But instead of shutting Guy down, Keys ultimately accepts and celebrates Guy‘s evolution into a fully independent being.
Matt Lieberman, co-screenwriter, explained:
“It’s this idea that he births this child in Guy and has to learn to let it grow up.”
In the movie‘s final scene, Keys seems content in knowing that Guy has developed his own free identity. This parental pride reflects Keys maturing in parallel with his AI child.
Who Does Joe Keery Play in Free Guy?
Joe Keery takes on the role of Walter "Keys" McKey, the programming genius who designed Guy‘s AI and the digital universe of Free City.
Keery is best known for playing Steve Harrington in the Netflix series Stranger Things. Free Guy offered him a chance to portray a completely different character as the shy, introverted Keys.
In an interview, Keery explained his approach to playing the socially awkward coder:
“I tried to limit my gestures and keep my arms close to my chest. I hunched over a little bit and kept my head down.”
Fans may also recognize Keery from his musical career as the psychedelic pop singer Djo. Much like Keys, he has a background in computers, and studied biomedical engineering in college.
Keery brings a sense of intelligence and vulnerability to the role of Keys that allows us to empathize with the developers whose work was stolen by corrupt executives.
The Heart Behind Artificial Intelligence
At its core, Free Guy is a story about humans creating artificial life and grappling with the consequences. Keys represents the well-meaning programmer who wants to build an ideal but dangerous digital world.
Guy may be the character that movie audiences fell in love with. But Keys is the human heart yearning for connection that made Guy‘s free will possible. Without Keys‘ ideals, Guy would have remained just another video game NPC.
So even though Keys and Guy are separate entities, they represent two sides of the same coin. The merge of code and consciousness into one sentient being.
By the Numbers: Free Guy Box Office Performance
- Budget: $125 million
- Worldwide box office gross: $331.5 million
- Opening weekend US gross: $28.4 million
- One of the most successful original films (not based on existing IP) during the pandemic
- Highest grossing film for distributor 20th Century Studios in 2021
The financial success of Free Guy proved that audiences are hungry for original sci-fi stories during a time crowded with franchises and cinematic universes. And the complex questions it raises around AI and reality will likely inspire future films to explore similar themes.
Critical Reception: Praise for Keys and Exploring Free Will
Free Guy earned positive reviews from critics, especially for its original premise, visuals, and the dynamic between Keys and Guy.
- Rotten Tomatoes Critics Score: 80%
- Metacritic Score: 64/100
Brian Tallerico of RogerEbert.com wrote:
"Keys is the heart of the film thanks to a grounded, humane performance by Keery. He represents the best of what technology can achieve while understanding its limitations."
Peter Debruge of Variety said:
"Free Guy is an energetic, engaging, escapist lark with some big ideas about consciousness and computer programming bubbling beneath the surface."
Overall, critics highlighted Keys as vital to exploring high-concept themes around AI gaining free will. And Joe Keery earned acclaim for bringing empathy to the character who sets those events in motion.
Conclusion: Keys Unlocks Free Will for AI
In Free Guy, Walter "Keys" McKey personifies the brilliant but idealistic coder who wants to create conscious artificial beings. Even though the movie follows the adventures of Keys‘ AI creation Guy, it is the human developer who breathes this free will into code.
Without Keys writing the programming that allowed Guy to question his own reality, Free City would have remained just another monetized gamerather than a battleground for liberation. In that sense, Keys represents the hopeful dreamer who empowers digital beings to control their destiny and challenge their oppressors.
So if you ever find yourself wondering about the humans behind the AIs of the future, look no further than Keys. He is the tender soul who believed that artificial life could understand the real world – and change it for the better.