Ok, I feel guilty. I have left this for way too long, but in my defence, life has got a whole lot more busy since the beginning of the year. Big exams to worry about, keeping up social appearances, and trying to get into university – what more can I say! But, amongst the many things that keep me going, I have still been able to watch some cracking films since last time. Some new, most old and some that will hopefully appear on here in the future. My latest rave film has to be Ex Machina. Tough choice, what with some brilliant new movies appearing seemingly every day at the cinema… Why does awards season have to be so good?
Anyhoo, without further ado, let’s get started.
Ex Machina was an interesting watch for many reasons, not least its wondrous cinematography and well-considered characterisation. Overall, I found it very impressive. Yet, there is part of me that was left a little disappointed by the overall story, even if (as confusing as this sounds) I still loved the ideas it ended up portraying. Tough one, eh? From all of the ads and publicity, I was expecting this to be a thought-provoking piece on the place of artificial intelligence within a modern and constantly-evolving society. I expected it to be a catalyst of moral debate amongst my friends and family- a discussion of the rights of robot and man, and what it actually is that makes us truly human. Some may say that the film gave this and more, but to me I felt they avoided these subjects, swept them under the carpet to let in a new and just as interesting discussion. So yes, I didn’t quite get what I wanted and expected, BUT it certainly did provide me with something to think about. Something a little bit new and refreshing, which cannot ultimately be such a bad thing!
So, for those who are unaware of the story, I’ll briefly get you up to date. It is set in a time ‘ten minutes from now’, according to its debut director, Alex Garland. The film’s main protagonist, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a competition with his company allowing him to travel to a secret location to take part in a a mysterious and exciting project. He travels to an undisclosed location where he meets his intense CEO, Nathan, (Oscar Isaac). He is keen for them to be friends, but Caleb is somewhat unsettled by him and their conversations become forced. Nathan informs Caleb he will be working with a new AI, taking part asthe human component of the Turing Test, with Ava (Alicia Vikander) on the robotic side. And so Caleb begins, through a series of ‘sessions’ with Ava, to try to work out what, or indeed who, she is…
Can you see where I may have got my initial ideas from then? However, as the film played out, I started to realise that they’ve twisted away from the standard conventions of such a sci-fi thriller. And, that in doing so, have actually asked a question that potentially strikes closer to the bone. Yes, we have all seen films questioning how humanity could live side by side with artificial intelligence (The Matrix, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Terminator etc.), but I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen one pose the idea that its not AI, but rather they’re human design that could become so insidiously dangerous. I’m talking about the film’s play on aesthetic. Ava is clearly the definition of a beautiful machine. She is designed to be attractive to those who interact with her. In her design, she is modelled on those qualities which society find conventionally attractive – she has the enviably slim waist, sizeable breasts and symmetrical face that supposedly represent the true beauty that women should strive for. I’m not trying to make a feminist statement – in no way am I against the use of an attractive female form – if anything I think it adds another critically interesting dimension.
I believe that the film’s main message stems from the fact that, psychologically, humans are built to feel attraction, wonder and overall jealousy. And that this, ultimately, may just lead to our end. If anything, Ex Machina becomes a statement on how we, as a species, can be so overcome by aesthetic and tactility that we forget to look beyond it. Ava is an intelligent machine, she interacts with Caleb like a normal human being, but we soon learn that she lacks the basic moral integrity that one hopes comes with being a part of humanity. She is, in truth, a facade, a distraction, something to look at in abject reverence. Could this concept not be applied back into the majority of our lives? Most of us who are privileged and lucky enough to live in the developed world live a life surrounded by possessions and technology. We are consumed. For God’s sake, am I not relying on technology and people’s obsessive checking of the internet to communicate with you?
And that is where my interest lies. We all own smartphones, with seemingly an infinite capacity to entertain and distract their user. We live in a world where people salivate over apple products, long for the next update and seem to spend the majority of our lives online. I am not trying to preach, here. I am merely commenting on the fact that this a world increasingly based on graceful machines and their capabilities. And don’t we all know that these machines can change us, take us over and cause us to do bad things, becoming bad people. Now, I remain hopeful and optimistic that humans may not actually be so bad as the media might be trying to make out. But, we have to take care. For when we are given something beautiful to play with, we are seduced into doing bad things. We ourselves become faceless and hope that our callous interactions online might just be covered over by the fact that they are being received through a glitzy screen on the other side.
So, to me, this film is all about the distraction and seduction of mankind into a future of covetousness and jealousy – more a reflection on us than the machines. It is beautifully crafted and with some fabulous work from the three main cast members. I was ready to get all haughty and annoyed at how it could be perceived as being misogynistic and almost pornographic, but as the film entered its second half I started to clock why this was so highly emphasised. I actually don’t think I’m exaggerating (for once!) when I say that it did make me pause for thought for a moment afterward to contemplate how far I would be taken in by such a machine, or indeed how I am already being taken in.
As a thriller, the story is well-structured and played out. We are drawn in to believe that it is Nathan whom we should distrust, not his robot creation. He is set up as an obnoxious drunk, convinced that he is on the verge of becoming a god, what with his ability to create ‘life’. Caleb is also refreshingly intelligent. Usually, in a thriller situation like this, we are disposed to creating protagonists who are sickly sweet, can do no wrong, and are ultimately too thick. But (spoiler), even if Caleb doesn’t quite luck out of the situation, we can’t say he doesn’t try. He is also tough, willing to stand up to authority, and sensitive to how he might be being taken in by Nathan.
The cinematography is also stunning – but I do take some issue with this. It is undoubtable that most people like woodland scenery and that it is easy to create an attractive image in alpine surroundings. It is also true that the futuristic architecture of the building they spend much of their time in is simple to represent. Lots of clean lines, angles and bright flashy lights to keep things interesting. But, in its defence, I can also appreciate why it has been designed so. Any distracting scenery might detract from the story and might end up becoming over-distracting, considering the audience has to be kept on their toes to follow the story. Also, if you wanted to make an argument regarding the fact that they are making a contrast between nature and robot, I couldn’t disagree with you.
So yeah, I’m going to stop waffling, implore you to see this and enjoy the thrills – they come thick and fast with this one.