Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2015: Ex Machina and the Question of Artificial Intelligence

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This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2015, a month long event to celebrate science fiction hosted by myself and Over the Effing Rainbow. You can view the schedule here, follow the event on Twitter via the official @SciFiMonth Twitter account, or the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

Please be aware that this post will contain spoilers for the film Ex Machina.

It was with great anticipation that I awaited the release of the film Ex Machina this past January. I finally made it to the cinema – and left feeling so unnerved. Ex Machina was not quite as I expected, although not at all in a bad way. It was more the fact that I wasn’t expecting the film to be so creepy, or to make me really think about so much of the film’s matter.

If you are unaware of the plot of the film, here is a brief synopsis:

Programmer Caleb wins an internal competition at the company where he works and is invited to spend a week at the mountain estate of the company’s owner, Nathan. On arrival, Caleb finds that the place is a state-of-art facility. Nathan gives him a non-disclosure contract to sign. Then he explains that he is assigned to evaluate the reactions and emotions of artificial intelligence in a female body called Ava. Caleb interviews Ava, and she uses a power outage to tell him that he should not trust Nathan. Along the day, Caleb is involved by Ava and plots a scheme to let her flee from the facility. Meanwhile Nathan tells him that he has been manipulated by Ava. Who is telling the truth? (from IMDB)

Or let the trailer set the mood:

After several sessions, the AI, Ava, begins to question Caleb about himself. She wants to learn about a person and therefore form a friendship through those bonds. Although the way in which she approaches making those bonds is not how natural friendships form, she is aware of how they work. Ava also asks why she cannot go outside. Later in the film, we see that Nathan’s previous AIs also asked this question, even demanding to know why and becoming aggressive and violent. Nathan is at first, a reclusive genius. Then his darker side emerges: he is an alcoholic, he seems to have ulterior motives for his AIs at times, and he has no qualms about psychologically terrorising Caleb.

Ava seems to grow rather attached to Caleb. He is, as Nathan says, the first man she has seen that is not Nathan, who is ‘practically her father’. It therefore only seems natural that she takes great interest in him, flirting with him, showing him her new clothes and analysing his microreactions for attraction. As she says, she is ‘testing him’. In the finale of the film, Caleb helps Ava escape. During the escape, she stabs Nathan with a kitchen knife. Did she do this because of his cruel behaviour, or because she saw his death as her only way out? She clearly has information on the concept of death, and knew how to kill Nathan. Was this something programmed into her, or something she picked up?

In a heartbreaking twist, Ava also abandons Caleb, leaving him locked in the house with no way out. This raises the question: was it her intention all along to use Caleb to escape? Did she truly have no interest in him? Or did she decide at the spur of the moment that it was best if she went alone, after what happened with Nathan? The film raises many questions that science fiction films of the past have raised, but the way of presenting them and the results of the ‘experiment’ is very haunting.

The lighting, setting – remote, modern and sterile – and music add SO much tension and atmosphere to the film. The soundtrack is truly outstanding, and sends chills down my spine. For a science fiction film, it’s less about the special effects and super technology (apart from Ava herself, obviously), and more about why we want things like this in our lives.

Have you seen Ex Machina? What did you think?

11 thoughts on “Sci-Fi Month 2015: Ex Machina and the Question of Artificial Intelligence”

  1. That dance scene (you know the one I mean): SO STRANGE.

    “Ex Machina” really underscored to me how much I want to believe in sincerity, to attribute human emotions to robots. Poor Caleb.

    I wondered about the ending, when Ava looks kind of longingly at the paired silhouetted shadows. Maybe she finds herself lonely, finding freedom is not the be-all and end-all of happiness?

  2. I liked this movie a lot, and I agree the setting had a lot to do. The big question for me was whether Ava was just using Caleb all along, and I felt bad for him when she abandoned him. At the same time I kinda cheered when the AI’s took care of their maker- he was such a jerk. Definitely thought provoking.

    1. That is a mystery – I want to believe that she didn’t intend that until the last minute, but I don’t know. The scene where Caleb realises he is trapped and that she has gone is really quite heartbreaking.

  3. It is a creepy film!! I was surprised by how creepy it became, too. Especially when I watched it a second time, knowing how it was going to end…All the characters are creepy in their own ways. Nathan, for being strangely unfeeling towards the AI. Caleb for being way too emotionally attached (perhaps?) to the AI. And Ava and Kyoko because I didn’t understand the motivations behind why they did what they did…all in all a great film! And visually beyootiful, too ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Did you find you enjoyed it more the second time round? I think because I already knew what was coming, I was able to concentrate on other, smaller things which made it more enjoyable. Caleb was very attached but… I don’t know. Ava did seem so so human, and I guess their conversations were so intense. Even seeing her machinery, you could think she was human.

  4. I really really enjoyed Ex Machina, but my good god did it freak me out. It was done so well.

    Urgh, Nathan, sexy, but what an absolute douchebag! I too felt so sorry for Caleb, and really hoped it had turned out differently, that they had skipped off into the sunset in some weird secret AI/Human life together… alas.

    Such a small cast, and visually beautiful, me and my Husband talked about that feel for a long time after seeing it.

    1. It really was! But that bit where Caleb is watching the past ‘experiments’, and that one AI bashes the door so hard that her arms just crumble. To me, that was the creepiest bit…

      I hoped for that ending too but I guess that was naive of us ๐Ÿ˜›

    1. Oh? What was the book? ๐Ÿ˜ฎ Definitely look out for it, I definitely think it is. It feels like a ‘small’ sci-fi film, if that makes sense? Small cast, one or two locations, probably a fairly small budget for that sort of film – but so so good.

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