You’ve been warned, ladies and gentlemen: this post is not a review but a place where we can finally talk about all those little light-bulb moments that Ex-Machina inspires, and sometimes orchestrates. Brilliant film, by the way. If you haven’t seen it, do. And then come back. For those of you sticking around, please view the following as talking points – take one or take all, and head to the comments to let us know how you feel. If you have your own questions to add, please do.
Okay, so first off: can you even believe that we haven’t learned our lesson yet? I mean, literally, every movie, every book, every comic has always warned of the exact same thing: robots will always get smarter than us. They will always realize that we a hazard. And they will always neutralize that hazard. Robots always win! End of story. Isaac Asimov microphone drop.
Director Alex Garland has described the future presented in the film as ‘ten minutes from now’. Meaning that ‘if somebody like Google or Apple announced tomorrow that they had made Ava, we would all be surprised, but we wouldn’t be that surprised’. Isn’t it a little scary that a machine that is potentially an extinction-level event for us could be being built in someone’s basement right now? Actually, we’re creeping closer and closer to this inevitability all the time – I recently warned our dear Carrie that she was wasting her time keeping in shape because one of these nights her fitbit would kill her anyway. As far as I know she’s alive and well, but I am concerned about how much of our lives we’re devoting to things like the Apple Watch, which can control your TV, pay for groceries, or give you directions. But it also has the ability to spy on you – just ask Edward Snowden! Did this movie feel like a real and imminent threat to you?
The title derives from the Latin phrase ‘Deus Ex-Machina’, meaning ‘a god From the Machine.’ It’s basically referring to a plot device where a god, or some powerful unknown, resolves character issues in one fell swoop. Nathan (Oscar Isaac) tells us that only gods can create new life – he’s cocky and proud of his invention and he loves when Caleb implies that he is a god. But Ava has other ideas. Whether or not she ever needed him, she’s certainly outgrown him (remember when Caleb sadly tells her it’s not up to him, and she asks “Why is it up to anybody?) – gave me CHILLS!), outgrown god even, by this point, and she knows it. So the ‘Deus’ is conspicuously absent from the title; god isn’t necessary. The machine is all that matters. Is it inevitable that we will create the thing that undoes us?
The movie is divided into “sessions”, each day that Caleb spends administering his best attempt at the Turing test. In the end, ‘Ava Session 7’ appears on-screen even though Caleb isn’t administering the Turing test anymore, and Nathan is pretty dead. Do you think this means Ava was doing the testing all along? It definitely feels like she was always in control. The boys felt the ultimate test would be to see if she could fall in love, but she knew that the ticket to her escape would be to manipulate Caleb into falling for her. Now that I’m thinking about it, Ava lives in this glass box, but when Caleb is questioning her, he steps into a box within her box, which sort of hints toward him being the one in the hot seat, doesn’t it?
A Turing test, you may remember, is a conversation of sorts between a person and an unknown entity. If a computer can pass itself off as a human during this test, it has passed, and the computer can be considered ‘intelligent’. In the film, Caleb can clearly see that he is interrogating an android – Nathan feels that if Ava can still relate to him as a human despite it being very obvious that she isn’t, then the test will truly be meaningful. What I think is meaningful is that the android is played by a human. So funny in this age of Ultron, but I loved that this movie was driven by ideas rather than effects. There are so many cerebral easter eggs, references to Frankenstein, and the Bible, and Greek mythology. I need to see it 8 more times just to soak it all in. But Ava is played by Alicia Vikander, who realized that to move and act like a perfect woman would end up seeming robotic, so for a robot to act like a real woman, she must be flawed. Did that make your head hurt? A robot like Ava knows and sees all. She processes everything at a much higher rate than a human ever could, but to win over Caleb, she must express a vulnerability that would appeal to him. In seeming weak, or scared, or dreamy, she gives him the opportunity to feel he has something to offer her. She plays him expertly. This is the greatest chess game a robot has ever played, but as we know, robots always win.