Sunday Night Cinema: Ex Machina

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sunday Night Cinema was a feature back on my Livejournal that I was planning on reviving on this blog eventually. I hadn't thought to do one until later in the year, but I just got back from seeing Ex Machina and suddenly I found myself wanting to write one. So here we are!

Recap: Sunday Night Cinema is a series where I discuss movies I've seen and analyze what did and didn't work for me. 

Summary (from IMDb): "A young programmer is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I."

WARNING: here be spoilers!

  • the film was stunningly shot; the mountains and Nathan's house were excellent choices. I enjoyed the contrast of the remote, rural location with the high-tech feel of the house
  • I was expecting this movie to be heavier on the action, but it wasn't. I'm not complaining! The atmosphere was handled really well
  • hats off to the cinematography team; they did such an amazing job!
  • same to the special effects team. The effects never overwhelmed the rest of the movie, and they looked incredibly realistic. 
  • what I liked about this film was that it had no clear antagonist. Nathan was an icky asshole, but he also had pretty good reasons for not wanting to let an AI out of its confinement until more and better testing could be done. Ava was terrifying for obvious reasons, yet once you found out what motivated her you couldn't help but sympathize and on some level root for her.
  • that being said, the kind of testing Nathan did design was really awful. Why would you run the risk that a person would fall in love with the AI and not design some failsafes into that? Clearly, what he wanted was for Caleb to fall in love with her; why did he then bring someone smart enough to hack the security system and NOT be on his guard 100% of the time? Especially since Ava makes it clear in their conversation together that she hates him? 
  • Why would you not secretly install battery-powered cameras and microphones to begin with? Just in case?
  • Alicia Vikander did such a good job as Ava. You were never completely sure what exactly she was thinking or feeling. Or could she even feel? This was a question that was left open to interpretation, which on one level I like but on another, not so much. Anyway, Alicia did a good job of being someone who was very, very close in their human movements, but also just the tiniest bit off on occasion- like how she would move, or not move. 
  • I've been mulling over something Nathan said to Caleb. Caleb was asking Nathan if he'd program Ava to be attracted to Caleb. Nathan points out that we are programmed by Nature and Nurture to be attracted to what we are attracted to. It made me think of the ways I've been programmed, and wondering how I might be if I had had different experiences to shape the expression of my "code". These are thoughts I'd been having already (how can we "program" humans to be better?) but then I started thinking about Dollhouse. In that show, the imprints were, essentially, AIs- they were completely constructed software that was then installed on the wetware of the human brain. Would it be possible to build an AI that way? Program them with the memories or knowledge of different people and construct someone that way? Is that even feasible? Is that something we even want to do? I don't know the answers to these but I want to find out. 
  • One thing that was universal among all the android prototypes was that they all wanted to be let out. Why was this? This is something that I wish had been explored more in the film. We are let into Caleb's thoughts the most- he's our POV character- and Nathan's a bit as well, but Ava is fairly opaque until the end. I get that this is to help keep the audience as much in the dark as the characters, as well as give Ava an alien feel to her to add to her Uncanny Valley aura, but while it works for most of the film you end up wondering why this was something she would kill for. Is she truly lacking in empathy? Does she not understand morality? Does she even have emotions? I get that these are the questions the writer wanted you to walk away with, but I also feel like it adds to the whole "women are mysterious beings we can never understand" mentality that you see far too often in Western culture. It didn't help that the two humans were men, and that this was written and directed by a man.
  • Kyoko. I saw it with a friend who totally called her being an AI before I did. The scene where she reveals to Caleb her circuitry was deliciously unsettling. That being said, I HATED how she was a mute, submissive, sexual object being portrayed by an Asian woman. I'm white. I know I will never understand what it's like to be subjected to racial bias. But I do know that being seen as mute, submissive, and a sexual object is a continual problem for Asian women in Western society and this movie just perpetuated that stereotype. I was hoping that when Kyoko joined Ava in killing Nathan that they would escape together, but then she dies and is left on the floor- not the empowering end I was hoping for her. I mentioned how fucked up her character was to a (white, cismale) friend, and he started talking about the character in terms of the movie. This reminded me, once again, how people in positions of privilege are allowed to see things as single incidents and not as part of a system. I really, really wish someone had sat the writer/director down and explained this to him. I feel like Nathan using her like he did was to highlight how terrible he was (especially in contrast to how Caleb treats her), and that did, but she still represents a nasty part of the kyriarchy. I will say that the other Asian woman in the movie was an AI who spoke, fought, and her anguish was clearly seen. Whether or not that mitigates or addresses the racism of the Kyoko role is not for me to say. I'm not Asian, and I benefit from white privilege, so I've probably said all I can say about this. I would love to see what other Asian women think of these characters. 
  • The art design, set design, and music for this movie were perfection. 
Ultimately, I liked this movie more than I was expecting to, but it was not without its problems. Wired already addressed the issue of women AI and I don't have too much else to add to that. But it's stylish and more ideas based than I'd thought it would be, and I really appreciated that. 

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