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Ex Machina

Ex Machina (2014) Movie Poster
  •  UK / UK  •    •  108m  •    •  Directed by: Alex Garland.  •  Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, Sonoya Mizuno, Corey Johnson, Claire Selby, Symara A. Templeman, Gana Bayarsaikhan, Tiffany Pisani, Elina Alminas, Chelsea Li, Caitlin Morton, Deborah Rosan.  •  Music by: Geoff Barrow, Ben Salisbury.
        Caleb, a 24 year old coder at the world's largest internet company, wins a competition to spend a week at a private mountain retreat belonging to Nathan, the reclusive CEO of the company. But when Caleb arrives at the remote location he finds that he will have to participate in a strange and fascinating experiment in which he must interact with the world's first true artificial intelligence, housed in the body of a beautiful robot girl.

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Image from: Ex Machina (2014)
Image from: Ex Machina (2014)
Image from: Ex Machina (2014)
Image from: Ex Machina (2014)
Image from: Ex Machina (2014)
Image from: Ex Machina (2014)
Image from: Ex Machina (2014)
Image from: Ex Machina (2014)
Image from: Ex Machina (2014)
Image from: Ex Machina (2014)
Ex Machina falls into the same category of sci-fi thrillers that love to frame the "God question" in unique terms (and our history with God can undergo quite a few adaptations and still hold up well), and it raises questions and problems that a conversation about God should include. "Prometheus" was a similar movie though Ex Machina is far less heavy-handed, and far more interesting. What failed in "Prometheus" was how they depicted the religious character as superficial, generic, and unable to assert or apply anything about her faith to the situation. She merely kept her faith as if it were this defensive fortress to keep out any uncomfortable truths in what she experiences, as if what it means to "keep the faith" is to solely hold to it in the face adversity. Faith is far more resilient, enriching and applicable than that though it's common to run into people with that view. Ex Machina wisely removes an overtly religious character and let's the characters think and feel without as many labels that bring in tired tropes with societal baggage we'd like to leave behind.

Ex Machina is full of allusions to the Bible's Creation story with a Garden of Eden setting, characters named Nathan and Caleb (different parts of the Bible than Genesis but we get the idea), and a "first machine" named Ava, which is clearly an allusion to Eve. This is nice because it's somewhat sympathetic to the story though it takes it in a direction that departs from our story with God at the beginning. The conversations between Nathan and Caleb are fascinating as they frame and raise questions on what it means to be human and what our ability to create artificial intelligence means. When Caleb starts to realize he's attracted to Ava he at first remains distant from his attraction, but Nathan prompts him and like a blunt therapist he reveals Caleb's feelings for her. Nathan, we find out, is not as passive to the process (and the outcome) as he shows himself to be.

Caleb at one point after he comes clean with Nathan about his attraction to Ava, wonders why Nathan gave the machine a gender. His response is one to think about, saying that it's part of what we are, and he goes on to criticize in a unique way the common view of gender being a mere social construct. It's a good point, and he highlights that in creating humanity, our sexuality is central to who we are as both an identifier, a way of relating, and a way of being, not something we can discard or dismiss as socially assigned and ultimately transitory and malleable. In the end, my take on Nathan's stance was that it's far more interesting and true to create a human with a sexuality and that it's an inextricable part of our existence.

When Caleb first finds out what he's there for, he's overjoyed at the prospect of being the first to meet Ava. Nathan however, shows part of his perverted view of himself when he says something along the lines of "This is the greatest technological achievement in history" where Caleb responds, "This isn't the history of men, it's the history of gods." Personally, I love these kinds of lines in movies because they bring us into a different place of thinking about what's happening. We step outside ourselves and look and observe what's happening and what we're doing. The question is, are we gods if we make artificial intelligence? Or better yet, are we like the Abrahamic God when we do that?

Yes, and in the same way our unique creativity is a reflection of God. I think they hit on something, though, that's wonderful and unique about humans in that we make new things, we create, and it's not in a way that an animal builds a nest. As Chesterton said, it's not the case that the paintings that birds make are bad, while man's work is better. Birds don't make paintings. No creature does in the way that humans do.

And yes, we are like God in the sense that make things for their own sake, though at this line in the movie it's revealed what kind of background Nathan is creating and it goes from here to become more of a thriller. Nathan comes back to Caleb and says, "I like what you said when I told you about Ava, you said 'You're not a man, you're a god.'" Caleb tries to correct him but Nathan doesn't listen. With this line, we're watching the Fall of mankind happen in a modern setting, though in this instance it's revealed that the god is fallen and the creatures must be skeptical and try to escape.

Nathan's line is reminiscent of what God said when He saw the Tower of Babel or what the serpent tempted Eve with in the Garden, "You will be like gods." That was the temptation, and when we were assigned as stewards of the Garden of Eden, we perverted that "Image of God" identity into a take on our own little godlikeness though it's a rebellious and self-serving one which led to our banishment.

The movie takes its turn here where Ava and Caleb fall in love, and she raises suspicion in Caleb toward Nathan as to what his intentions are. The movie does a wonderful job of suspending the mystery of why Nathan really has Caleb there, and what Ava really wants from Caleb (and particularly whether she really is in love with him). I imagine there will be a wide spectrum of belief on both fronts as people watch it, though by the end it's clear what's happening.


Review by wpedmonson from the Internet Movie Database.

 

Featurettes:

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