Today I watched Alex Garland’s Ex Machina (2015)
It begins when Caleb Smith, an employee with Blue Book who are basically Google, wins a one week trip to meet with Nathan Bateman, the CEO and genius behind Blue Book. Bateman lives in isolation, in a high tech compound hidden deep in some mountains and besides the two of them, the only other person is Kyoko, Bateman’s servant. It all seems a little weird to Caleb, so Bateman finally tells him the reality of why he is here, Bateman has created artificial intelligence. Caleb is here to do a Turing test, a test to determine a machine’s sentience, but Bateman seems preoccupied with his own narcissism and philosophizing to administer the test properly. Caleb grows tired of Bateman’s self centered nature, combined with a rampant alcoholism and other disturbing behaviour, which is only furthered by the robot, Ava, asking him rather pointed questions of her own fate. This leaves Caleb with a quandary, does he sit back and bear witness, or act on the dark nature of Bateman’s work, or is he being manipulated? And if so, by whom?
Following the basic premise of the Frankenstein story, Ex Machina modernizes it in every way, mainly by sexualizing it. Ava is a female robot, built with artificial sexual organs and an idea of gender, though how much she subscribes to it may be up for debate. So Bateman was pretty much making sex-bots, imbuing them with a sense of self because he has a god complex. But beyond the thoughts this raises about the sexual politics of today, it also frames the act of creation and the state of consciousness as inherently sexual. Bateman puts forward a philosophy that everything is really, deep down, about breeding and sex, our minds are just tools to get it, thus, gynoids.
Now of course, while this movie is a struggle between a flawed creator and his offspring, it also seems to be about the current state of sexual politics and boy does it strike me as a dark and cynical take. Without going into spoilers, my takeaway from what this movie has to say about gender politics is that of deep seated objectification and violence. But while this film has representatives of the male gender, it doesn’t actually have any women, at least not human ones. Ava may look like a woman and act in a feminine way, but she is not human nor does she have any real cultural experience, this is one of the films unstated truths, she is not us and does not think like us and thus cannot really be seen as a symbol of women. She can be seen as a symbolic representation of objectification, but I think she is actually the end point, the conclusion to that system and psychology. I think this difference is important to point out because otherwise it would be possible to see a very anti-everyone theme in some of her more objectionable actions.
It is really hard to talk about the themes of this film without spoiling the end, and I don’t want to do that because of how powerful and impactful it is. So if my previous assertions sound rather rambling, well check out the film and see if it makes them more logical. This is high quality science fiction film making, the cream of the crop. It is steeped in philosophy and ideas relating to both futuristic technology and how it may be developed and it’s impact on us, while also using that to explore the world today and what is happening right now. It is all really thought provoking stuff and as such cannot be recommended enough. 5/5