Mark A. Carter
 

EX MACHINA, crash and burn

World famous Canadian Science Fiction novelist Mark A. Carter writes a film review explaining why the movie Ex Machina was a dissapointment.

I have been waiting for months to see the 2015 film Ex Machina written and directed by Alex Garland. Based on the trailers, I had great expectations that the film would impress. And I want films to succeed. But alas, 2015 is destined to be a bad year for Science Fiction, except for the Marvel series, which I can't say enough good things about. Anyway, Ex is utterly dreadful. First the 2015 film Jupiter Ascending disappointed, now this. It's enough to make me stop going to the cinema.

Why did Ex disappoint? Let me count the ways. Overall, the film was supposed to be about artificial intelligence, about android sentience. And since we are at the cusp of such a singularity, stories of this nature thrill me. The small budget 2013 film The Machine written and directed by Caradog James, about android sentience, was an excellent film. But Ex missed the mark by a mile. I have often said that stories which use gadgets, gimmicks, and gizmos for no real purpose do not make good Science Fiction. And that is precisely what occurs in Ex.

The premise of the film is that a young programmer named Caleb, played by Domhnall Gleeson, has won a contest to spend a week with the eccentric head of his search engine company. The young man journeys, by helicopter, to a remote, northern retreat to meet the young CEO of Bluebook named Nathan, played by Oscar Isaac. Caleb soon discovers that the home of his boss is actually a research facility. And his week-long stay there is to be the human component of a Turing test to determine whether an android named Ava, played by Alicia Vikander, has sentience. But from there on the film just falls apart. It is all premise and production quality with little sense or substance.

For all of Nathan's talk about determining the sentience of his creation, the fully functional female android or fembot named Ava is merely window dressing used to camouflage production quality and a very loose Frankenstein motif. In other words, Garland has used her and the other unclothed female androids that are revealed as gadget, gimmick, and gizmo; as eye candy in lieu of a good story. I am sure that is how he garnered the financing for his debut film venture.

The film is really a character study, although a weak one, of Nathan. And frankly, the isolated creator or mad scientist was done better in Mary Shelley's archetypal 1818 tome: Frankenstein, or the modern Prometheus.

As an aside, let me reiterate one more time that Victor Frankenstein was not a doctor at all. Please read Shelley's novel. He was a first year university flunky and science dilettante obsessed with the perverse idea of reanimating dead tissue. And surprisingly, he actually succeeds. It's Hollywood that elevated his stature to doctor. Bla bla bla. Frankenstein is about man playing God. And when Victor Frankenstein succeeds, he goes mad because he cannot reconcile creating a creature when he believes that only God has the right to create. Moreover, Victor believes that he has offended God by manufacturing the monster. So, the pseudo-scientist rejects his creation. And being rejected by its creator, the unloved and unnamed creature goes mad as well, and sets out to vengefully kill everything Victor loves.

 

Ex Machina

Alicia Vikander as android Ava.

Directed by Alex Garland.

© 2015 DNA Films.

In Ex, the androids are imprisoned by Nathan in his private, remote, research facility somewhere in northern Scotland, by the look of it. Nathan tells Caleb that he is more father figure to Ava than creator. But, in my opinion, he is no Prospero. And his honesty and motives are suspect. When he informs Caleb that he has made Ava fully functional, this is where the premise sickens and the film becomes distasteful. We discover that Nathan has intimate relations with his Japanese assistant and silent companion Kyoko, played by Sonoya Mizuno, who we later discover is an android. Therefore Nathan, the creator of Amber, Jade, Jasmine, Kyoko, and Ava becomes the perverted father figure in this sick drama. And his perverse contact with his creations, with his daughters, if you will, becomes nothing short of incestuous. Ex is a perverse version of the Galatea myth from "De Cypro" by Philostephanus, retold in Ovid's Metamorphoses, used by George Bernard Shaw as the premise for his 1913 play Pygmalion, and later made into the 1964 Lerner and Loewe musical My Fair Lady directed by George Cukor.

Shakespeare did the overprotective father and and daughter relationship better in The Tempest. Ironically, Prospero escapes the evil of the modern world, by choice, to bring up his daughter in seclusion only to have his sanctuary invaded by the world in the guise of a shipwreck and the crew who survives it. But in Ex, Nathan is the evil of the modern world incarnate who spreads his corruption to his android daughters.

The Green slime are Coming!

Directed by Kinji Fukasaku.

© 1968 MGM.

So, is this movie about sentience, about creating female pleasure androids, or merely about sadism? For all of his eccentricities, Nathan comes across as a pervert rather than a father figure, and more of a sadist than a design genius. In The Tempest, Miranda falls in love with the first man other than her father, that she sees. He is a young, virile, shipwrecked sailor. And she says, "O brave new world, That has such people in 't!" But in Ex, Nathan brings Caleb to his home, tells the young man that Ava is fully functional, but sadistically keeps young man and android separated by glass. The android asks the young man whether he loves her, which suggests that, like Miranda, she has fallen in love with him. She convinces him that she is in danger. And Caleb programs a means for their escape. But Ava kills Nathan, leaves the young man imprisoned in the facility, and escapes alone.

Can you say: bad writing?

What does this have to do with artificial intelligence? And how does any of it have to do with sentience? The takeaway message of the film is that Nathan, for all of his supposed genius is a misanthrope. And he has created beautiful, female androids who have learned from him to be despicable, devious, and duplicitous. In an attempt to create the perfect woman, he has developed female androids to be silent, beautiful, satisfying slaves. This film should send female libbers into a frenzy. Please tell me there are still some of you out there. It sounds similar to the expression "women are filthy and not to be trusted."

This film is a cheat on so many levels. It really has nothing to do with android sentience. And, if the vague conclusion of the film is merely that Ava gains her freedom, in her android attempt to survive her dreadful creator, it is lame a swell. After Nathan injures Ava and Kyoko physically, the android co-conspirators stab and kill him. But, there is really no reason for Ava to leave Nathan's research facility and home and take the helicopter ride back to civilization. And there is no reason to imprison Caleb who could have journeyed back with her as friend, guide, and potential human lover. Nothing makes sense.

Ava in Ex is not the unnamed android in The Machine. The android in The Machine escapes the facility with her creator Vincent, is mother to his dead but digitized child Mary, and is entrusted by her creator to be the more intelligent counterpart and parent to his child. Vincent admits that his creation is superior to human beings. He admits that she is the future. And he trusts her. She displays artificial intelligence risen to the level of sentience, and physical abilities far superior to those of human beings. And Vincent sees it and accepts it. But the Ava in Ex, like the film itself, is a ghost, a lightweight, a phantasm of something that might have been but never fully gelled. Nathan does not trust his creation because perhaps he senses she is a ruthless bête noire figment of himself.

If one of the qualifying features of sentience is the instinct to survive, Ava in Ex has it. But it was done better in The Machine. And I question whether the instinct to survive will be anything more than essential programming in all intelligent machines of the future and have more to do with maintenance than sentience, as in BATTERY LOW, TIME TO RECHARGE.

Ex falls so short of a film about android sentience that it is laughable. It belongs with the gag films of the sixties, like the 1968 flick by Japanese director Kinji Fukasaku: The Green Slime are Coming! It cannot be taken seriously. And for the viewer, it is an utter waste of money and time. I will never watch it again. I will not buy a DVD copy for my film library. And I will never watch another film written or directed by Alex Garland. "Fool me once, Alex, shame on you. Fool we twice, shame on me."

Read: Cry havoc and let slip the cans of apocalypse
Gravity
Interstellar
Jupiter Ascending
The Martian
 
Artificial Super-Intelligence
Can a machine think?
Conceptual Breakthrough
Doomsday Revisited
Future War
IBM Builds Brain
Killer Robots
Robot Takeover
Sex Robots
We May Exist in a Simulation

Now you know.

from the imagination of Mark A. Carter - novelist

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