True Intelligence is only an artificial heartbeat away.
Somewhere between conscious and unconscious, somewhere between nature and nurture, somewhere between tits and ass, lies… EX MACHINA.
Young computer programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson,UNBROKEN) wins a contest to spend a week with reclusive company boss Nathan (Oscar Isaac, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS) the inventor of the world’s largest search engine, Bluebook. Flown out to a vast mountain estate, Caleb discovers Nathan’s true objective is to use Caleb to assess the Artificial Intelligence of a humanoid robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander, in a CGI skinsuit that makes us look at her tits and ass).
Ah, so it’s a battle between artificial and superficial. (The fact that what society considers “superficial” is actually the reason we are on the planet – to procreate – is another discussion…)
EX MACHINA is the Artificial Intelligence movie we’ve been waiting for. Many good old and recent films have tackled the A.I. conundrum (METROPOLIS, BLADE RUNNER, THE MACHINE, CHAPPIE, ROBOCOP 2014,), but their third acts get tangled up in A.E. (Artificial Entertainment, i.e. running and screaming and Pretty Orange Explosions).
EX MACHINA is a true intellectual odyssey, brilliantly constructed so that its dialogue alone provides the breathless tension usually associated with throwing shields and fuel-injected suicide machines. A plot within a motive within a plot… From the moment Caleb meets Nathan – and Nathan tries to make him feel at ease with his hip lifestyle and vernacular – we are on edge.
Isaac plays the distracted genius Nathan perfectly, a cool, young, uber-intellectual CEO, who works out like a maniac, drinks like a pirate and has a wall of Post-It notes that gives new meaning to either “backburner” or “procrastination”; he’s in the room with you physically, but playing a chess game in his head to which none of us are privy.
In Nathan’s subterranean fortress, Caleb meets Ava the robot, kept like a tiger in a glass case of emotion. She has a see-through body, the face of an altar-girl and a seeming inborn innocence expressed through a crystalline voice that belies her canniness – and she is subliminally terrifying. Why? Because we are immediately attracted to her. Yes, we intellectually know that Ava is just an actress camouflaged by CGI, but in our dark groins, we know that even if she were a robot, we would still be attracted to her! And that is the danger, because – like any manipulative female – she/it would exploit that attraction for her/its ulterior agenda. As Nathan correctly predicts. But an agenda denotes “desire.” Visual stimuli and survival instincts are built into organisms as evolutionary tactics, to procreate and continue their genes. Nathan built Ava’s visual stimuli and her brainwave connections; the question is, at what point in “consciousness” does the desire for continuance arise? Desire to experience more? Desire to crave fulfillment? Desire to do a dork?
It is no accident Caleb is a computer geek and not a Wolverine-type. Domhnall Gleeson (son of the mighty Brendan) embraces his character of the unmuscled wimp with no girlfriend, uneasily succumbing to artificial t&a clouding his real intelligence. (But who are we to talk, right? What do you think breast implants are? Artificial. Yet the bigger they are the cloudier we get.)
Due to our entertainment media programming, we have been conditioned to regard certain “types” as heroes and villains, but EX MACHINA insidiously sways our allegiances between all three characters, and by the climax, we must claw ragged at our objectivity to discern exactly who is hero, villain and patsy.
The ingenious idea here is that Nathan used search engine technology to create Ava’s A.I. “Not what people were thinking but how people were thinking… Impulse, response, fluid, imperfect, patterned, chaotic.” An excellent concept – because it is truer than we dare admit. Tooling around on the internet is truly stream of consciousness writ tangible. More than once, we’ve sent YouTube videos to friends with the qualification, “Don’t even ask how I got here!” Tripping down a real life rabbit hole… Today I looked up Turing Test and three hours later ended up on Queen + Adam Lambert’s 2015 New Year’s Eve gig. Yesterday I started on Room Service by KISS, and ended on tigers attacking people. How do we GET to these places?! How do we make these connections? Our convoluted minds have wandered like this since primitive times, the internet has codified that wandering, with power of suggestion, experience, negative and positive reinforcement, tenuous and solid linking, with search engines, spiders and marketers actually tracking our unconscious streams of consciousness! And selling us shit. The real question should be: does six hours on YouTube constitute Artificial Intelligence – or Lack Of Intelligence?
The ultimate irony in humans trying to discern artificial intelligence in machines is that the majority of humans hardly exhibit real intelligence. To whit: Reality TV, Christianity, Islam, George W. Bush’s two terms, Kim Jong-un, American Republicans, NASCAR, Miley Cyrus, American “healthcare,” The Vatican, astrologers, Adam Sandler films, the Ku Klux Klan (see: American Republicans), the military, Sarah Palin, Disney films where the wife is smarter than the doughy husband, the kids are smarter than the parents, and the pets are smarter than everybody… need I go on? So it is “odd that the only measure we can imagine for intelligence is to be just like us.” [Kris Hammond] Which means that the opposite of artificial in this sense is not “real” but “organic.” That makes the concept of A.I. make sense. Because organic intelligence doesn’t necessarily mean “smart” [see above]. Does it begin to register why Hawking’s A.I. machines would run away with the game?
The movie bravely goes there. Guys, you know what I’m talking about. Or are you pretending not to know while your girlfriend is still in the room?… Where are you looking? Movie broaches the subject of sex with a machine. (Is that what James Brown meant with Sex Machine?) Gets it out of the way early with Nathan’s frankness; in reply to one of Caleb’s technical questions, from out of nowhere: “In answer to your real question, You bet she can fuck! In between her legs is an opening with sensors…” Caleb denies, “That wasn’t my real question…” But does it take the Howard Sterns of the world to actually say what everyone is thinking?
But is it a diversion tactic? Did you program her to flirt with me? Does a hot robot cloud your ability to judge A.I.?…
Caleb finds himself caught between information and disinformation. Odd things keep happening: power outages, Nathan’s half-truths and left turns; Nathan’s Japanese sex slave with a body like disco buttah (Sonoya Mizuno), and his bouts of drinking himself unconscious and purging with a punching bag every morning; an undercurrent of something askew, abetted by the skin-tightening soundtrack and sound design (Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow) – drones building intensity, nails down blackboard, sudden release…
Caleb is very open with Ava about his purpose, “I’m here to test if you have a consciousness or if you are just simulating one,” but things take a decidedly Clingy Girlfriend turn when he neglects to visit one day and she tells him: “I waited for you, but you didn’t come yesterday.” Uh-oh. (Is that what Bruce Springsteen meant with “Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack. I went out for a ride and I never went back”?) Then the power goes down. In the red emergency glare, Ava tells Caleb, “You shouldn’t trust Nathan. He lies.” Proving she is capable of duplicity, deceit, underhandedness, deception. Yup, the Clingy Girlfriend app all right.
It is when she starts wearing ugly short-haired wigs and old-lady dresses – in an attempt to make herself look pretty for Caleb – that it goes from Clingy Girlfriend to Psycho Girlfriend (some men still claim there is no distinction), until she asks him, “What will happen to me if I fail the test?” Clouding his judgment even more, Nathan asks him, “I know how you feel about her. Now the question is, How does she feel about you?” Instead of installing the Jennifer Lopez app at this point, the movie swerves darker.
While walking into the movie theater, I saw a young art-nuveau couple (he had a pink streak in his hair; she was dressed like a store mannequin, with most of her baby-smooth upper C-cups exposed and a vinyl skirt that exposed her taut lick-me thighs), and he was looking away from this body-built-for-banging at a billboard showing an even more scantily-clad female. Not only does this perfectly illustrate the human animal’s drive for a successful evolutionary model (desire, search, impregnate, in quick succession, with as many mates as possible, to breed as many offspring as possible to continue the gene pool), it also illustrates how our instincts for desire are on a hair trigger and can be activated at the slightest provocation with objects that are not even three-dimensional or attainable. (Artificial Attraction?)
From this concept, we draw a direct line to two-dimensional porn, to three-dimensional Real Dolls and then to Ava. How can a human male – programmed as he is to react instantly to erotic stimulus – not be affected by this hard-9 Real Doll with working parts that can fake enjoyment of your tool better than your real life pushing-6 girlfriend? In other words, for those fundamentalists or youngsters or fat church ladies who think this movie’s premise is pushing unreality – that a guy can fall for a robot – the rest of us know it is merely mirroring reality.
All the right questions are asked – ethical, technical, philosophical – and all the right answers are made metaphysical meat. With the sub-text that if you can do something, and you’re not ready for it, it will overpower you. With touches of humor to slice through the dark: Nathan calls his creation, “the greatest scientific event in the history of Man!” Caleb adds: “If you’ve created a conscious machine, it’s not the history of Man, that’s the history of gods.” Very funny when Nathan casually turns that into – “You said I was a god.” “I didn’t quite say that.” “Yes you did, you looked at me and said, ‘You are a god.'”
An exclusive screenwriter before this movie (28 DAYS LATER, DREDD), director-writer Alex Garland has crafted a movie that appeals to any organically intelligent being, as a reaction to the bombast of unintelligent summer movies with no concept called high concept. EX MACHINA is about a supercomputer that doesn’t become “evil,” and doesn’t become the “thing to run from,” and doesn’t devolve to action over ideas in the last act. EX MACHINA is fascinating, foreboding, insightful, mind-warping, with as much color and vibrancy as any iron man or furious road or tomorrow land. You will leave EX MACHINA with a thousand new ideas and concepts swirling through your artificially intelligent little lobes. If you haven’t been clouded by tits and ass…