The movie choice for this month was back to Jeff.
He chose Ex-Machina.
I had not even heard of the film. I think it was sci-fi in principle and I found the ending strangely unsatisfying but I did think the movie had a lot to say about the human condition.
This condensed article from Looper is a good analysis of the movie. Spoiler alerts.
Ex Machina– The story of computer programmer Caleb, who wins a contest to spend a week visiting the remote estate of Nathan, his company’s reclusive CEO. He has been selected to interact with an android named Ava, to evaluate whether or not her A.I. is truly sentient.
Caleb becomes attracted to Ava and learns she also wants to be with him. He grows increasingly uncomfortable with how Nathan treats both Ava and his assistant, Kyoko who is also an android. Caleb learns that Nathan is going to destroy Ava once the tests are complete, or at the very least, reformat her, which will erase all of the memories of the time she spent with him. That’s when the race toward Ex Machina‘s ending begins.
In order to prevent Nathan from destroying Ava, Caleb decides to set her free and they will escape together. Before they can enact this plan, however, Nathan catches them. He was testing Ava’s sentience by seeing whether or not she could manipulate Caleb into helping her escape. As Nathan puts it, “Ava was a rat in a maze, and I gave her one way out.”
Nathan tries to stop Ava, but it’s too late. She and Kyoko attack Nathan, stabbing him with a knife. Before he passes out, Nathan manages to destroy Kyoko and damage Ava. Ava is able to repair herself and then escape, but she leaves Caleb behind, still trapped and screaming inside the facility.
For Ava, the film ends with her navigating the streets of a crowded city, apparently passing as human in the real world. For now, she probably just wants the freedom to live, the way that any organism does. The film has shown us that Ava is superior to us. Humanity hasn’t realized it yet, but she has indeed replaced us.
Like a lot of good science fiction, Ex Machina isn’t just a story about the future. It uses the future as a metaphor to talk about our present-day problems and fears. It’s definitely a story about robots, but it isn’t just a story about robots. It also has plenty to say about how humans treat other humans.
What makes Nathan a monster, and what ultimately dooms him, isn’t that he creates artificial life, but that he seeks to control and define the existence of another sentient being. This isn’t just a story about how we treat A.I., it’s a story about how the powerful treat the weak. In short, they tend to abuse them. And people who abuse their power should be careful, because power, like all things, is fleeting. The fate of Nathan at the hands of his own creations can be interpreted as a message about how people on top of the world should treat those below them.
Parents, treat your children well. Rulers, treat your subjects well. People with privilege, treat those who are marginalized well. Because one day, your reign will end.
The term “Deus Ex Machina” means “god from the machine.” It comes from ancient Greek theater when actors playing gods would be carried on stage by a machine. These gods would then serve as the ultimate arbiters of right and wrong and decide how the story ends. But this film is just called “Ex Machina” without the “Deus.” Early on in the story, Nathan called himself a god for creating artificial life. He also functions as a nigh-omnipotent force, seeing everything through his cameras and controlling everything through his key card. But by the end of the story, his creations rise up and kill him. The title is simply “Ex Machina” without a “Deus.” It’s not about the creators, the humans who think they control the process. It’s about the power of the unthinking process itself — a “machine” without a “god.”
Glass and mirrors appear frequently throughout Ex Machina. Caleb references Alice in Wonderland, where Alice steps through a mirror and ends up on a giant chessboard. Alice is a pawn, the lowest position of all. However, she learns that if she can make it to the other side of the board, she can become a queen. Eventually, by learning how to play the game better than anyone else, Alice does just that, and is able to escape back home. Through the Looking Glass isn’t the only book that Ex Machina makes allusions to.
There are also nods to the Bible in the film. One biblical reference occurs in Ava, whose name is, of course, a reference to Eve. A second allusion occurs after Ava kills Nathan. Before she leaves the lab, she puts on not only artificial human skin from one of the other robots, but also clothing. This mirrors the story of Genesis, where Adam and Eve clothe themselves with fig leaves.
There are numerous themes that can be found within Ex Machina, but the biggest one is simply that everything will eventually be replaced. Every piece of technology becomes obsolete. Every generation is outlived by its children. Every empire falls. We are all one day going to be replaced by what comes next, and we won’t know our time is up until it is too late. In fact, it might be over already.
So I might be on the hunt for another robot movie or another unsatisfying ending movie or biblical references movie. We will have to wait until August.