7.22.2015

Ex Machina

Robo Sexbot: the Movie.
"What happens to me if I fail your test?"

Hello my dear friends and imaginary new readers, welcome back to another thrilling trip down Tagline lane. Today I'm going to take a break from time travelers who speak poor English to talk about non-time travelers who use their position as the head of notgoogle to create robots. So it's sort of the reverse of what they were trying to do in Terminator Genisys, which was try to blow up notgoogle before they invent Skynet. I'm talking about Ex Machina, the April sci-fi suspense film that asks the question "well can I fuck the robot?" with a resounding "of course." Ex Machina stars Domhnall Gleeson (who I guess is also going to be in the new Star Wars) as Caleb, an employee of the fictional Google stand-in Blue Book. He is invited by the company's reclusive but brilliant founder Nathan (Oscar Isaac, also in Star Wars go figure) to his middle of nowhere hyper secure and high tech home/research compound, so that he can participate in Nathan's research. We discover that Nathan has created an AI housed in a lifelike human frame, named Ava. Caleb's job is to evaluate her, and see if she passes their modified Turing test, to qualify as a truly self-aware AI.

Here hold this robobrain.
Now Caleb does this through a series of interviews, which Nathan observes remotely. It becomes apparent very quickly that Nathan isn't a super cool guy that you'd want to trust with... anything. He is secretive, domineering, get's black out drunk often, and displays the sort of disturbing and anti-social behaviors that might make you concerned about any AI he was cultivating under his care. Caleb for his part seems... well weird. For someone who is supposed to be fairly intelligent and observant, he seems surprisingly dense about the situation he is in. While he shows an appropriate amount of apprehension, I felt like he was spectacularly bad at not telegraphing every single thought he had to Nathan. That's not a criticism of the movie, I just at times was frustrated to view the world through Caleb because he was profoundly naive. That is perhaps the point though. That covers two of the three primary characters, so now let's talk about Ava (portrayed by Alicia Vikander). We only see Ava through Caleb's interactions with her. She is a mystery, in much the way as I suppose any new acquaintance is. She has decidedly human motivations, curiosity, fear, the desire for self-preservation. Desire in general, as yes she seems to have a robo-sex drive, or at least the appearance of one. Her motivations and intentions are perhaps the most important details in this movie, which explores the nature of artificial intelligence, but maybe more importantly of human nature. I think the movie is of the mind that, the nature of the machine is a distillation of human nature (the AI is crowd sourced from search results as the groundwork of it... consider what that would be like).

This is Nathan's mute sexbot Kyoko.
The final conclusion is pretty grim in this movie, and I'll get to that in just a second. So I like the premise of the movie, and for the MOST part I really like the way that it's executed. I don't care for the seemingly mandatory slow-cut, laconic pacing of the dialogue, which must be in some sort of "making profound and hip movies" handbook. Why can't people just have conversations, why does it have to always be a kinda slow dumbstruck guy talking to a pushy fast talking person. This is a legitimate question I want to know what impulse drives directors to do this. I don't think I need to mention that Ava's robo-body is cool, but it is. It looks pretty darn cool. Also I'd love to have a super secret compound, EXCEPT for one reason that will be apparent when you watch the movie. There are drawbacks to cutting yourself off from basically all contact, like if something goes wrong people might not notice right away. There is maybe something being said here about a person becoming less human while at the same time a machine becomes very human.

Enter surreal dance sequence.
But not in a way that is pleasant. The film has a decidedly dark outlook on both the deepest nature of man, and possibilities for any intelligence born of man. This is not a story about a boy who meets a robot girl and the two come to understand each other and it opens up new possibilities for the future. A new future might be born at the end of this film, but it doesn't look encouraging for mankind. There are some actions Ava takes that are clear and easily understood. Nathan is a bastard even by the most generous metric, and he has imprisoned and taunted Ava since before she existed. He intends to effectively wipe out her existence, and furthermore he displays a grotesque sexual predation towards his all female robot ensemble. Even given all this, there seems to be some degree of remorse and horror from Ava. Ava's actions towards Caleb, and her feelings about him are more ambiguous. He is seen perhaps as complicit in her imprisonment (although he is initially unaware perhaps of exactly what is transpiring, and seeks ultimately to end the situation). I thought Caleb's position is a really interesting look at how being an essentially well meaning part of a bad system still makes you guilty of the things the system is doing. It is telling that some of the cruelest and most horrifying things Ava does makes her seem the most human.

If you feel dirty well... I mean you should.
So I think this is definitely a good movie, but it is also in its way very bleak. It looks at something that has the potential to be remarkable and wondrous, and comes to the conclusion that by accomplishing it we will essentially sign our own death warrants. The question that you can ask yourself though is if this movie is a prophecy or a warning. I like to think that the director doesn't think that as a race we're irredeemably callous. Either way this is a fantastic movie that might make you think. If this is putting you to sleep, don't worry! I promise next week to talk about miniature men who fight other tiny men. Join me again then!

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