Modern Day Frankenstein: Ex Machina

We saw this movie last night at The Princeton Garden Theater after I read a brief review of it that said it was an intelligent sci fi thriller. It was either that or White God, which is foreign film about a bunch of dogs who rise up against that man. I'm sure I would like that one too, because the main character is a mutt, but I am also afraid it would be too sad, like all the dogs will get shot. Now that we actually have a dog, I am even  more sensitive to their various plights.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Ex Machina, it nestles in with a family of films that are about similar subject matters (Her, Lucy, both starring Scarlett Johansson), essentially, how technology is dangerous, how relationships in the age of Siri are fractured as men tend to fall in love with robots/operating systems if they are really hot, and how women in a position of power are threatening. Are these films all being developed because Hillary Clinton is running for president? Not sure, but all are written and directed by men. Just an observation, not yet a theory.

The story centers around an experiment developed by a brilliant coder, Nathan, who lives in this amazing research facility/house in some country that has both waterfalls and ice caps. Wherever it is, the location is decidedly remote, and the only way to access it is via helicopter. He is also the owner of a major tech company, and has chosen one of his employees, 26 year old single dude, Caleb, to visit his lab and test out his latest experiment, an A.I. robot named Ava. Ava is completely beautiful (though bald for most of the film) and has a human face. Caleb's task is to test her "human-ness" to see if she could essentially pass in the real world. Does she exhibit creative thought? Can she show emotion such as empathy? Does she have her own desires? Yes, to all of those questions, and Caleb falls in love with her, and agrees to help her escape so that they can be together.

Then there is a series of twists and turns that end up flipping your expectations, and, like in the movie Gone Girl, the ending leaves the female character unpunished, despite her own penchant for cruelty and inhumanity. The dudes, on the other hand, are in bad shape.

Dan said he couldn't really see what was so bad about Nathan, and in a way, that's part of what's complicated about the movie. Nathan is definitely arrogant, a narcissist; brilliant, manipulative, a hair away from being a sociopath. This is made especially clear when Caleb discovers the previous iterations of Ava, you know, like your iPhone, there was a 1, 2, 3, 4...She is just the latest creation. The earlier versions of the robot women are hanging in his closet, naked and corpse-like, having been turned off and shut away.

Does it matter? They were never human, though Nathan's goal is to make them as human-like as possible, and so are they really dead if they were never alive in human form? Or is having an awareness of your "aliveness" enough so that to take that away is a form of murder? I am probably missing many of the more complicated, Foucaultian interpretations, but I would say that yes, Nathan is a monster (a Dr. Frankenstein) who creates life without concern about what it might mean to take it away. On the other hand, does he really have a moral imperative to keep the other versions "alive" if he needs their brains/circuitry, to create a better, more improved system? It's sort of like animal testing for a cure for cancer---do the monkeys matter if they really can't process the fact that their ultimate fate is death? Of course, in this case, the AI's can see that their time is finite, so maybe it is more cruel.

I liked it. I liked it that she got away.