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Ex Machina (2015)


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Directed by Alex Garland, starring Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, and Oscar Isaac.

 

As per IMDB -

A young programmer is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I.

 

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  • 4 months later...
  • 1 month later...

Saw it this afternoon, and can honestly say that it's a likely contender for my year-end Top Ten list.  I liked that this wasn't the typical "here's what happens when all the dominoes come tumbling down" look at the future of the world, if and when artificial intelligence comes into being.  Rather, it just examines that first domino (if you will).  To say more would be spoiler-ish.  Oscar Isaac is very good, as is Domhnall Gleeson, but this is Alicia Vikander's film.  As Ava, she brings a very human and, at the same time, a very other-worldly note to her performance, much like Jeff Bridges in Starman.  Not an easy thing to pull off.

Edited by John Drew

Formerly Baal_T'shuvah

"Everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can't let the world judge you too much." - Maude 
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Oh, it's a clear Top 10 contender, a great, or near-great, film. I've barely processed the movie, but my sense is that while I love the pacing (this is a colder, slower film than the one ad I saw for it would indicate, and I'm fine with that), the movie did feel like it was maybe a tad long. I can't put my finger on what might be the issue there - I'm not sure there's really anything to my concern - but the fact that the guy next to me checked his watch a few times (the first time just about 20 minutes into the movie!) probably had something to do with it. 

 

Also, as I wrote in my review, this is Oscar Isaac's third award-caliber performance in three years. He's on an amazing run. While I guess I could see this as Vikander's film, especially considering the story's progression, I was so taken with Isaac's performance in the first half of this movie that it's hard for me to think of the two other main performers first. 

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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... the movie did feel like it was maybe a tad long. I can't put my finger on what might be the issue there...

 

 

Yep, especially the last sequences.  Like Blade Runner, I think Ex Machina should have gone to black at the closing of the elevator doors.

Edited by John Drew

Formerly Baal_T'shuvah

"Everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can't let the world judge you too much." - Maude 
Harold and Maude
 

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"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Saw this yesterday. Came away... unsatisfied. My friend and I both found ourselves using the word "indie" to describe why the film didn't quite work for us. For him, the word tied in to the pregnant pauses in all the dialogue. For me, it tied in to how the film flirted with big ideas but didn't really offer much payoff (though I did appreciate the way you don't really know who is playing whom near the end).

 

Question: Is it just coincidence that the main character in this film is played by the son of the guy who led the robophobic "flesh fair" in A.I. Artificial Intelligence?

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Ex Machina was absorbing while I was watching it, particularly the first two-thirds, but at the same time, everything felt too controlled and insular, like I was watching an exercise rather than a story. I know that tension is a big part of what the movie was trying to do, but it didn't didn't quite do it for me.

 

At the end,

we see Ava walking up to the helicopter, and then it cuts away. Was the pilot really okay with picking up a totally new person from the compound? For a while, I thought Ava was going to skin Caleb and pass herself off as him to leave, and then I thought she might kill the pilot and take the copter herself, but the movie glosses over whatever happened there.

It's the side effects that save us.
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Yes, I was watching the bottom edge of that helicopter shot very closely to see what it would reveal... and it didn't reveal anything one way or the other. Rather frustrating, that.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I shared some thoughts on Facebook. But did anyone else think this is to sci-if film AI what Primer was to sci-fi film time travel?

"It's a dangerous business going out your front door." -- J.R.R. Tolkien
"I want to believe in art-induced epiphanies." -- Josie
"I would never be dismissive of pop entertainment; it's much too serious a matter for that." -- NBooth

"If apologetics could prove God, I would lose all faith in Him." -- Josie

"What if--just what if--the very act of storytelling is itself redemptive? What if gathering up the scraps and fragments of a disordered life and binding them between the pages of a book in all of their fragmentary disorder is itself a gambit against that disorder?" -- NBooth

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Rian Johnson is a big fan.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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  • 2 weeks later...

I posted my own review for this film on Sunday.  There were a couple of unsatisfying story issues here for me, which brought this down from 5 to 4 stars for me.  Tyler mentioned one of them; the other was Nathan's improbable reliance on relatively antiquated technology for security purposes.

 

Otherwise, I thought this was a terrific film:  great visuals and atmospherics, with topnotch acting by all 3 leads (I did not know that Domhnall was the son of Brendan; how interesting!).

 

Yeah, it would've been nice if Alex Garland would've dug deeper with some of his philosophizing, though he's smart enough to (aptly, I think) toss around Wittgenstein's name.  He knows how to tantalize with big ideas, as evidenced by the excellent 28 Days Later and the disappointing Sunshine.  Nonetheless, I think this story works well either as a cautionary tale about men taking on godlike hubris or as a creation myth recasting.  Or maybe both.

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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I’m with Christian on this.  I very much enjoyed it, and I thought the pacing was fine.

 

 

Spoilers.

 

So far as the underlying philosophy, the film really gave us a sound look at the basic philosophical questions that are raised when it comes to artificial intelligence.  First, is true consciousness possible, and second, can it be moral.

 

I would think that the film came down with an affirmative to the first question, but a negative to the second.  The first was obvious, but the second a little more subtle, with the contrast between Jay and Ava.  Jay was concerned for her being trapped and possibly eventually perishing.  Concerned enough to go to the troubles of attempting to free her.  Ava on the other hand held no concern for Jay’s being trapped and starving to death, even when it would have been *easier* for her to let him free.  

 

She was conscious, but she had no conscience.  There were of course signs of this in the stabbing, with her it was merely a curiosity.

 

As well.  She proved that she was conscious by how she was able to use and manipulate Jay (according to his theory I expect), but in this, she proved that she had no conscience in the end.

 

In the film's dialogue there was the mention of Prometheus, which is of course connected to the Frankenstein monster, being the “modern day Prometheus.”  The thing is, in the Frankenstein story there is the conclusion of consciousness, but he also clearly had a conscience.  He grieved over some, if not all of his actions.

 

Also.  I’d think that the term “Ex Machina” in stead of the “Deus Ex Machina” as used as a literary term, has much to say.

 

 

Full Definition of DEUS EX MACHINA

1

:  a god introduced by means of a crane in ancient Greek and Roman drama to decide the final outcome

2

:  a person or thing (as in fiction or drama) that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty

 

 

Deus of course refers to deity.

 

In this film the unexpected and contrived solution was for Jay to be part of the test of Ava, to solve the insoluble difficulty of how to decide if she had a true consciousness.

 

As well, Ava is that which is introduced unexpectedly to Jay that provides the contrived solution to the difficulty of consciousness.

 

But here’s the thing.  There was no Deus involved.  No deity.

 

Without the Deity one can create consciousness (according to the film) but one cannot create conscience (according to my interpetation of the film's message).

 

Of course in Romans it says that we were created with consciences attuned to the higher law (not that it can’t get scathed over.)  Ava didn’t have this.

 

-

 

So I would interpret the film as a gentle warning.  Even if humanity can create consciousness, then lets not forget that without the additional creation of conscience there are terrible troubles.  Such is the ramifications of playing God.  Or of leaving God out (of the title.)

 

Likewise, we can create genetically enhanced this and that.... but we still don’t know about any potential pitfalls.

 

What about the futuristic ideas of transhumanism.  Putting electronics into our brains to help in our functioning.  Or into other parts of us.  How much will this override our conscience, or that which really makes us human.  When people have heart replacements, they begin to have some of the feelings and memories of those to whom the earlier heart belonged.  There is that which is apparently stored in the heart.  What then if we are given electronic hearts to help us to live longer and more vital lives?  What of our humanity is lost?

 

How far should we go?  Do we increase human thriving while also robbing from humanity?  Is that possible, or are we about to step beyond what is allowable by leaving out the “Deus.”  By overriding wisdom of the creator?  

 

Also, what are we doing to our growth as human beings by making life too easy through technology?

 

These are things that I am not seeing considered in the transhumanism movement.  I’ve been concerned for awhile that there is not a holistic view of things.  Largely because many have, again, left out the “Deus” out of the equation, trying to better humanity through their endeavors and discoveries, and forgetting to consider a deeper wisdom.

 

-

 

But anyhow.  On another note, the “Mary thought experiment” mentioned in the film isn’t actually the thought experiment directly related to artificial intelligence (although it is related to consciousness.)  That thought experiment was the Chinese Room Thought Experiment by John Searle.

 

The Mary thought experiment is about consciousness, but it is more specifically about “mental events” and was used to argue that not all mental events can be related to the biological brain and thus there is an immaterial mind (soul.) 

 

But here’s an important point.  This film is using the “Mary thought experiment” as part of its argument for saying that a machine can have true consciousness whearas in reality the Mary thought experiment argues that it is *impossible* for a purely material "being" to have a consciousness.  The film has twisted the thought experiment to support something that it is arguing against.... unless the film was to argue that there is an immaterial mind to Ava, which it didn’t.  It clearly showed her purely material "brain."

 

 

From the book of philosophy “the Waning of Materialism.”

 

‘Though functionalism fails to adequately account for consciousness of any sort, perhaps the most conspiuous aspects of this failure pertain to qualitative content:  the sort of content involved in experiences of colour and sound, and of things like pains and itches.  The point has been made in many ways, but the most straightforward and compelling in my view is the so called “knowledge argument”.... later developed by Frank Jackson using his famous example of black and white Mary, on which I will mainly focus here....

 

.... I will assume here that Jackson’s original version of the saga of Mary is familiar enough to require only a brief summation.  Mary is a brilliant neurophysiologist, who lives her entire life, acquires her education, and does all of her scientific work in a black and white environment, using black - and - white books and black and white television for all of her learning and research.  In this way, we may suppose, she comes to have a complete knowledge of all the physical facts in neurophysiology and related fields, together with their deductive consequences, insofar as these are relevant - thus arriving at as complete an understanding of human functioning as those sciences can provide.  In particular, Mary knows those pertaining to visual perception, by knowing their causal relations to sensory inputs, behavioral outputs, and other such states.  But despite all of this knowledge, Mary apparently does not know all that there is to know about human mental states; for when she is released from her black and white environment and allowed to view the world normally, she will, by viewing objects like ripe tomatoes, learn what it is like to see something red, and analogous things about other qualitative experiences.  “But then”, comments Jackson, “it is inescapable that her previous knowledge was incomplete.  But she had all the physical information.  Ergo there is more to have than that, and physicalism (materialism) is false.”

 

-

 

In other words.  Materialism is false as the idea of an immaterial mind (soul) as part of our existence is the only way to fully explain human experience.

 

-

 

Then there is this recent article.  

 

In his paper, "Non-computability of Consciousness," Daegene Song proves human consciousness cannot be computed. Song arrived at his conclusion through quantum computer research in which he showed there is a unique mechanism in human consciousness that no computing device can simulate.

"Among conscious activities, the unique characteristic of self-observation cannot exist in any type of machine," Song explained. "Human thought has a mechanism that computers cannot compute or be programmed to do."”

Edited by Attica
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... the movie did feel like it was maybe a tad long. I can't put my finger on what might be the issue there...

 

Yep, especially the last sequences.  Like Blade Runner, I think Ex Machina should have gone to black at the closing of the elevator doors.

 

I thought that too about where it could have ended, although I appreciated the additional scenes, and the callback of the very last shot. Perhaps that could have been a mid-credit coda? 

What the additional scenes do, I think, is ambiguate whose story it really is, and what the final mood or tone is. Obviously it depends on which character we're thinking of. Doesn't it? 

Attica: I like all your ideas about conscience very much, and I think your analysis is defensible as far as it goes. My one reservation is that conscience and morality is one dimension of the human experience the movie never actually raises. If the movie meant to underscore Ava's limitations in this respect, then it should have been a topic of discussion, and perhaps even an area in which Ava might have to behave in ways that might make us ask "Is she really a moral being or just pretending?" In that case we would be on much more solid ground in bringing those notions to the climax. 

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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SDG said:  My one reservation is that conscience and morality is one dimension of the human experience the movie never actually raises.

 

 

Not directly when it comes to Ava I don't think.  It does make a point of telling us how noble and good Jay's character is and showing us actions that I certainly relate to conscience, then places his and Ava's actions in contrast.  But yes, I do see your point in that just because *I* relate his actions to conscience in the sense that I did, doesn't necessarily mean that the film is intending me to.

Edited by Attica
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Perhaps that could have been a mid-credit coda? 

Oh, no no no no no. I don't know if that's the comic-book-movie geek in you coming out, but mid-credit and post-credit scenes have become a plague. What once might have been an enjoyable, rare payoff for staying through the credits (which most viewers don't care about) has become a dreary expectation that now results in audiences being puzzled when they sit through the credits only to discover there's nothing more to the film and that it ended when a movie's supposed to end: once the credits start to roll.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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  • 1 month later...

I compared and contrasted Ex Machina with Her in this piece. 
 

Computer dating: Artificial intelligence and robot sex in Ex Machina and Her

Ex Machina overtly addresses the extent to which eroticizing technology is an extension of pornography and male objectification of women — something glossed over in Her, with its celebratory phone-sex scene between Theodore and Samantha. Caleb’s slowly growing attraction to Ava is more persuasive than Theodore and Samantha’s relationship, as much because of Caleb’s guarded, critical resistance and Ava’s assertiveness as because of her clearly robotic yet voluptuous physicality.

Female nudity is prominent in Ex Machina (Ava is only the latest model in a long line of robots created by Nathan, all female, and some more anatomically correct than others), and the issue of the “male gaze” in cinema is both engaged and subverted.

As in Her, Ex Machina is as much Ava’s story as it is Caleb’s or Nathan’s. But this takes a far more unsettling and even horrifying turn in Ex Machina, a film that recognizes that, as a moral canon, “allowing yourself joy” may be woefully, even disastrously insufficient.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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I guess I haven't shared this piece on EX MACHINA yet. I delve a bit into its exploration of machine consciousness.

"What is it like to be an AI?": Ex Machina and the Nature of Consciousness

Edited by Anders

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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  • 3 months later...

So this has been getting some love over in the Ecumenical Jury thread, and I scrolled through to see I passed on discussing the film first go round...perhaps because it was one that I saw early (SXSW), didn't like, and wanted to let people make up their own minds about.

See, the problem, though, is when I let you all choose, you choose WRONG!

My review:

When the last act finally kicks into gear, the revelations involve a lot of nudity and violence against women. Here, too, the form is appropriate to the subject matter. Ava’s experience becomes a striking metaphor for a woman’s oppression in a severely patriarchal system. Still, as in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, the violence and nudity get conflated in ways that struck me as ironically exploitative, given the films’ respective themes decrying the exploitation of women. 

Look, do I want to be the jury's Ted Baehr? I do not. But neither do I want to fail to acknowledge that artful depictions of sex and nudity are still problematic in some Christian audiences. And I'm still not convinced that most of the sexuality and any of the nudity was necessary. 

Maybe I'm just getting prudish in my middle age, maybe it was the young SXSW crowd, but this film struck me as first and foremost an excuse to enjoy looking at Vikander and only second an attempt to explore any kind of ideas?

Too scrupulous in my sensibilities? 

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So this has been getting some love over in the Ecumenical Jury thread, and I scrolled through to see I passed on discussing the film first go round...perhaps because it was one that I saw early (SXSW), didn't like, and wanted to let people make up their own minds about.

See, the problem, though, is when I let you all choose, you choose WRONG!

My review:

When the last act finally kicks into gear, the revelations involve a lot of nudity and violence against women. Here, too, the form is appropriate to the subject matter. Ava’s experience becomes a striking metaphor for a woman’s oppression in a severely patriarchal system. Still, as in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, the violence and nudity get conflated in ways that struck me as ironically exploitative, given the films’ respective themes decrying the exploitation of women. 

Look, do I want to be the jury's Ted Baehr? I do not. But neither do I want to fail to acknowledge that artful depictions of sex and nudity are still problematic in some Christian audiences. And I'm still not convinced that most of the sexuality and any of the nudity was necessary. 

Maybe I'm just getting prudish in my middle age, maybe it was the young SXSW crowd, but this film struck me as first and foremost an excuse to enjoy looking at Vikander and only second an attempt to explore any kind of ideas?

Too scrupulous in my sensibilities? 

No, I had some of those same reservations. Mind you, I'm not 100% convinced the nudity is gratuitous - I'm on the fence about it, and second viewing would persuade me one way or the other - however, I find myself VERY sympathetic to those who claim it is. And I also felt the big third act reveal was kind of shallow and smug. But I'm on the fence about that too.

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

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So this has been getting some love over in the Ecumenical Jury thread, and I scrolled through to see I passed on discussing the film first go round...perhaps because it was one that I saw early (SXSW), didn't like, and wanted to let people make up their own minds about.

See, the problem, though, is when I let you all choose, you choose WRONG!

My review:

When the last act finally kicks into gear, the revelations involve a lot of nudity and violence against women. Here, too, the form is appropriate to the subject matter. Ava’s experience becomes a striking metaphor for a woman’s oppression in a severely patriarchal system. Still, as in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, the violence and nudity get conflated in ways that struck me as ironically exploitative, given the films’ respective themes decrying the exploitation of women. 

Look, do I want to be the jury's Ted Baehr? I do not. But neither do I want to fail to acknowledge that artful depictions of sex and nudity are still problematic in some Christian audiences. And I'm still not convinced that most of the sexuality and any of the nudity was necessary. 

Maybe I'm just getting prudish in my middle age, maybe it was the young SXSW crowd, but this film struck me as first and foremost an excuse to enjoy looking at Vikander and only second an attempt to explore any kind of ideas?

Too scrupulous in my sensibilities? 

 

No, I had some of those same reservations. Mind you, I'm not 100% convinced the nudity is gratuitous - I'm on the fence about it, and second viewing would persuade me one way or the other - however, I find myself VERY sympathetic to those who claim it is. And I also felt the big third act reveal was kind of shallow and smug. But I'm on the fence about that too.

The nudity did bother me, not because I'm prudish, but for the very reason Ken mentioned--by the end, it felt exploitive, like Vikander was a tool being used to communicate Garland's ideas, an irony which is not lost on me. It's a film I find hesitant to recommend to others who haven't seen it. I left Ex Machina feeling similar to how I felt about Sunshine--plenty of attempts at Big Ideas, which totally fall flat by the overly long third act.

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Well I nominated the film, so consider my short piece linked in the post before Ken's to be the beginning of my argument in favour of the film. I'll consider my response to the nudity, but to start I think it fit with both the characters and the plot and the way that Caleb is expected to make a connection with Ava.

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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I consider myself very prudish, but the context of this nudity, for some reason, didn't bother me as much as it would have for other storylines with less skin.   

Nick Alexander

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Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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I don't think I've posted this link here before--maybe at Facebook? Anyway, it's a snippet of Q&A with Garland talking about the film's themes.

I bring it up just because it was one of those deals that made me feel like there were a lot of *ideas* floating around, but not fully developed. Again, I didn't hate this film. I fave a mild endorsement at CT review. But I'd be reluctant to vote it high on Awards list (except *maybe* for the actors.)

 

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