Friday, February 5, 2016

First Impression: Ex Machina

Ah the peril of expectations. Ex Machina appeared on several top ten lists for films of 2015. I spoke to several film fans who enjoy science fiction tell me how great it was. I had film fans who were indifferent to science fiction tell me how great it was. Ever since the pain of The Phantom Menace I do my best to keep all expectations in check. But with so much good press, it was tough for Ex Machina not to get a little pumped in my mind. You can see the huge BUT coming in his review right? Well, this is why I'm pulling together a First Impression and not a full review. I want to give the film another chance with adjusted expectations. But I did see the movie and here is where it breaks down for me at this moment. 

I allude to some Spoilers below. Don't read further if you haven't seen the movie.

Three Things I Liked
  • Impressive visual effects to bring Ava to life
  • Excellent acting by the three leads
  • The overall feeling of isolation and confinement was all realized

Three Things I Didn't Like
  • A.I. is out to get us... again
  • Didn't go in any real new directions with the story of A.I. or Frankenstein
  • Did they just use Jackson Pollack to make a point? Yuck!

As you can see from the items I didn't like, I was pumped for a story dealing with artificial intelligence that was going to explore different facets than we typically see in science fiction. But the plot and themes pretty much boiled down to the same fears and cautionary tales we've seen time and again in science fiction. I guess I'm a little tired of that whole thing. But I think I was putting unfair expectations on the film that it wasn't really trying to deliver. Aside from that, the movie is really well made, with great acting and structured with great skill. It builds up nicely to the final scenes and when the ending comes it delivers a solid hit. Ex Machina is worth seeing again, especially to see if we can detect Ava's true motive sooner than Caleb or Nathan do.

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  1. Ex Machina raised questions about the nature of consciousness and ethics. Is the fact that Ava is deceitfully manipulating Caleb for her own ends proof of consciousness? What if it is? There is an argument that recurs with some frequency among scifi writers of certain stripe that “inalienable rights” belong to any being capable of understanding the philosophical concept of them and of demanding them. Do they? Does Ava have such rights and, if so, can she ethically use lethal force to exercise them? Are the AI robots out to get us or do they just insist on self-determination – or does the latter require the former? The movie raised the questions without really answering them, nonetheless I still liked it. Not so the woman with whom I watched it. She complained: "Too much talk."

    1. I had no problem with the talking luckily. I think my expectations were just wrong for the movie. It felt like it scraped the surface instead of really digging in. But as you pointed out, any more digging in would have resulted in more talking. So maybe they picked the best course of action in the end.

      I had an additional issue (one that I admit is very specific to me). My next blog about "Ex Machina" will reveal all.

  2. I enjoyed it okay, but I thought it was a bit over hyped. To tell you the truth I enjoyed A.I. better. It could be I just don't get the implications, and I think stories about artificial intelligence paint themselves into a corner a bit like stories about time travel do, and therein lies the rub.

    In other words, the writers can say and do whatever they want with them because they are fictions and don't actually exist, so they are speculations and extrapolations about reality--how things might occur and play out. Sort of morality plays within certain parameters, but you have to wear blinders or suppress reality.

    Why would Ava want to be free? Wouldn't she be just as happy having access to computer to feed her curiosity (or really just a built-in router to get access to the web)? Robots wouldn't have the same desires as humans, why would they? Humans are motivated by religion, money, sex, greed, food, shelter, love, (granted some humans have mental problems too) etc., which robots don't need/have. If she becomes sentient surely she must know killing is wrong. Granted robots don't have religion either, but what about ethics? Humans can be atheist, but they don't go around robbing, raping, or killing. So she just wants to be free to be free, to experience life more? Couldn't she have done that without the violence? Wouldn't her creator have programmed in some form of protocols to have prevented that? Wouldn't the creator have put in some kill switch if she made it out beyond the compound? He certainly programmed his house well, why not her? So these type movies have to construct or manipulate certain things to tell their tale, but don't address others as it would fall apart.

    I agree on your positives about the film, but I felt it was just a better produced version of The Outer Limits. I always thought they were one of the better SF series. It was food for thought, and I enjoy that aspect.

    1. You make some good points about most movies dealing with androids/artifical life forms. What is funny is that this movie kind of reminded me of the huge amount of "robot girls" in anime in the late 90s and early 00s. Many series added a "robot girl" into the mix of characters jus so they could have someone wandering around saying things like "What am I?" and "Am I like you?" They pretty much were around as another girl for the main male hero to fall for and then had some big "revelation" at the end where she realized she was just as human as the rest of the cast. Fun character and all, but they all did the same thing and pretty much only scraped the surface of the concept. I blame "Neon Genesis Evangelion" for making that trop popular, but once again, NGE did it much better and had a lot of more depth to the character and the situation (and of course had turned it tragic by the end).

      Anyway, I'm curious to give this another viewing later in the year and see if it strikes me a little differently.