Ex Machina

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Ex Machina

Post by Dan_Brodribb on Tue May 12, 2015 3:28 pm

Not sure if I should post this here or in the entertainment and geekery section but there's a discussion of the movie 'Ex Machina' going on in the comments section of this article that I'm enjoying.

Both the article and discussion contain extensive spoilers.

http://birthmoviesdeath.com/2015/05/11/film-crit-hulk-smash-ex-machina-and-the-art-of-character-identification

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Re: Ex Machina

Post by The Wisp on Tue May 12, 2015 5:11 pm

First, I'm not a regular reader of Film Crit Hulk Smash, but I wish the writer would do away with the whole ALL CAPS thing. It's annoying, especially when the few reviews I've read of Hulk have otherwise been good.

To the substance: I didn't look at the film through a primarily gendered lens but rather through the lens of AI and science fiction. Sure, there were gendered elements that added complexity to the film, but I primarily took the film as a cautionary tale against trusting an AI merely because it seems human (also, against trusting the new Silicon Valley "masters of the universe"). The movie made me question whether Ava had any sense of morality, or at least any morality that a human could even recognize as moral. I also was never sure if Ava was a conscious being with subjective experience or merely a cold, mechanical, philsoophical zombie. I think my interpretation is at least as valid as the gendered one, not least because early on the movie prompts you to consider these questions.

I never really fully thought of Ava as a woman or a person, but rather a machine putting on an act. A silicon succubus, using sexuality to get what she wants. And from that perspective, Ava is not at all sympathetic. In fact, from that perspective the "liberation" of Ava could actually be seen as a potential tragedy for humanity!

This comment by VariousVarieties in the discussion summarizes my view of the movie well:

VariousVarieties Comment:
So I primarily took the film to be a piece of SF speculating about how people might treat artificial intelligence, and only secondarily involved metaphors about how men treat women. It was enriched by those metaphors, but not completely about them. So yes, I really did take the film at face value and interpreted Caleb as the identification figure throughout. (Which raises the troubling thought that I might be part of the problem...)

I saw it on its UK release, so I don't remember all the details of how it was all presented. But from what I remember, even though Caleb was obviously attracted to Ava, I didn't think that "Maybe if I save her from this evil man, I can win her over and she'll run off with me and be together" was his primary motivation for attempting to save her. That was there to some extent, but I thought the main reason he tried to help her escape was because he felt like Nathan's intention to wipe her personality was morally wrong. So I didn't think he was only being protective because he expected he'd get the "reward" of being with her.

(Having said that, I accept that he probably wouldn't have proposed the escape quite as readily if the Ava A.I. had been presented in a male shell!)

As for the ending: again, I think I took the film at face value, because I simply took it to be a work of speculative SF with a twist in the tail. The moment the door was locked, the film was confirming/reminding us that whatever she looks like, this character is not a woman, or even a person. I was glad that Ava escaped, but the way that Caleb was abandoned to die meant it did not come across as heroic and triumphant.

So I didn't interpret the ending as a challenge to our assumptions about Caleb and Ava: "Be careful who you take to be the identification character in a story, because they might not be the hero you assume they are! Try looking at it from a different character's perspective..."

And I definitely didn't see it as: "Women! Can't trust 'em! They're fundamentally the unknowable Other, and however much of a Nice Guy you are, they'll use their feminine wiles to get what they want, and then cast you aside!"

But instead simply as: "A.I.! However confident you are that you know everything about your creation, and whatever sort of human shell you give it, it's fundamentally unknowable, and it might not be capable of genuine empathy - it'll do whatever it takes to survive."

Even through a gendered lens, I'm not sure I agree that the feminist interpretation is a sunny one that paints women's liberation in a sympathetic light. This commenter raises the issues well:

capncook comment:
I'm a bit confused, I guess.

So, Ava gains her independence but she has to leave Caleb to a horrible death to accomplish this? Isn't that as bad or worse than not having her independence?

Maybe I'm looking at this wrong, but the film seems to imply that women are justified in their murder of men if it gains them freedom from male influence/gaze/whatever. So a man is somewhat complicit in the oppression of women, decides to do the right thing and help end the oppression, but hey, he's still an oppressor, therefore, he's worthy of starving to death in a box. Is this the progressive feminist view that Hulk says the moving is trying to promote? That all men are inherently evil and oppressors, thus, their lives are worthless especially in contrast to women's perceived happiness/freedom from men? It's even worse when you consider that Ava actively chose to leave him to die. It might be understandable if Caleb HAD to die for her to be free. But no, she could have walked away free as the wind but decided, nah, let me kill this guy, too. He's just a man. He may have completely been the catalyst for my emancipation, but all men are evil and all men deserve to die.

I really hope I've misread this and that it isn't what the movie is trying to promote. Because if so, that's awful in the extreme. If a schmuck like Caleb gets a sentence of "starve to death alone in a box", then the film is essentially saying all men have to be eradicated.

It actually puts feminism and female liberation in a very negative light!

But I also have a question about the feminist gendered interpretation (assuming it is correct, which I don't think is): where are all these movies where the meek, nice guy protagonists gets the girl just for being the protagonist that the movie is supposedly critiquing, and why haven't I seen them? The only other movie that I can think of that fits that mold is "Her", but that, too, was a criticism of the trope. I can think of many movies where a meek, nice guy goes through a radical (and implausible) personal transformation during the movie, becoming much more conventionally masculine and attractive, and then gets the girl, but none where the meek guy just gets her. Similarly, a lot of the commentors said that the men getting women as rewards, possibly even AIs presenting as women as rewards, is a common science fiction trope, but again I've never seen it! Of course, I'm not a prolific consumer of fiction (I probably read a half dozen new books, and see 8-10 new movies, a year) so I could just be missing these things.

There's also another gendered interpretation, which is that Caleb is a meek nice guy who is manipulated both by the alpha male Nathan and by the manipulative seductress in Ava, and this goes to show that men need to be stronger and less empathetic, lest they be stepped all over by other men and women.
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Re: Ex Machina

Post by JP McBride on Tue May 12, 2015 8:20 pm

Film Crit Hulk wrote:DEHUMANIZING

Star Trek VI, would you like to respond?

https://youtu.be/9SQQ_GYZ2Ps?t=20m5s

The Wisp wrote:I never really fully thought of Ava as a woman or a person, but rather a machine putting on an act. A silicon succubus, using sexuality to get what she wants. And from that perspective, Ava is not at all sympathetic. In fact, from that perspective the "liberation" of Ava could actually be seen as a potential tragedy for humanity!

Sounds similar to the ending in District 9.

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Re: Ex Machina

Post by eselle28 on Wed May 13, 2015 2:21 pm

The Wisp wrote:I can think of many movies where a meek, nice guy goes through a radical (and implausible) personal transformation during the movie, becoming much more conventionally masculine and attractive, and then gets the girl, but none where the meek guy just gets her. Similarly, a lot of the commentors said that the men getting women as rewards, possibly even AIs presenting as women as rewards, is a common science fiction trope, but again I've never seen it! Of course, I'm not a prolific consumer of fiction (I probably read a half dozen new books, and see 8-10 new movies, a year) so I could just be missing these things.

16 Candles (the dork was a rapist, but the movie treated him as if he were a nice guy), Revenge of the Nerds (another rapist), Can't Buy Me Love, Weird Science, Zac and Miri Make a Porno, Superbad. John Hughes used this trope a lot. I think it's discredited these days and is often either avoided or criticized in more recent comedies, but it did used to be common. In science fiction, it can still be seen in movies like Transformers.
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Re: Ex Machina

Post by PintsizeBro on Wed May 13, 2015 3:16 pm

eselle28 wrote:
The Wisp wrote:I can think of many movies where a meek, nice guy goes through a radical (and implausible) personal transformation during the movie, becoming much more conventionally masculine and attractive, and then gets the girl, but none where the meek guy just gets her. Similarly, a lot of the commentors said that the men getting women as rewards, possibly even AIs presenting as women as rewards, is a common science fiction trope, but again I've never seen it! Of course, I'm not a prolific consumer of fiction (I probably read a half dozen new books, and see 8-10 new movies, a year) so I could just be missing these things.

16 Candles (the dork was a rapist, but the movie treated him as if he were a nice guy), Revenge of the Nerds (another rapist), Can't Buy Me Love, Weird Science, Zac and Miri Make a Porno, Superbad. John Hughes used this trope a lot. I think it's discredited these days and is often either avoided or criticized in more recent comedies, but it did used to be common. In science fiction, it can still be seen in movies like Transformers.

He's not the main character, but Ron ending up with Hermione in Harry Potter counts too - to the point that JK Rowling regrets having them end up together, because that would not be a healthy relationship.

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Re: Ex Machina

Post by Guest on Wed May 13, 2015 3:34 pm

eselle28 wrote:

16 Candles (the dork was a rapist, but the movie treated him as if he were a nice guy), Revenge of the Nerds (another rapist), Can't Buy Me Love, Weird Science, Zac and Miri Make a Porno, Superbad. John Hughes used this trope a lot. I think it's discredited these days and is often either avoided or criticized in more recent comedies, but it did used to be common. In science fiction, it can still be seen in movies like Transformers.

Wasn't Superbad supposed to be directly satirizing those kinds of movies? It depicted the same tropes in a realistic context, to the point where Seth was literally in tears over Jules not drinking, because he genuinely believed that the only way girls could be attracted to ugly men is if they're drunk. On Evan's side, he had a drunk girl try to seduce him and hated it. Both of them try to act out the tropes they see in these other shit films (I hate John Hughes and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Even though Home Alone is a guilty pleasure. I hate him and what he stood for: mainly date rape), and everything goes wrong. Only McLovin ends up getting some simply by not trying to manipulate anyone and actually having a pleasant and respectful interaction with a woman.

Regardless, I like it for treating a cliche seriously, despite also being funny as hell. It's not perfect, the female characters exist as objects for the boys and so on, it's baby steps in the right direction. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and 500 Days of Summer and Her dealt with objectifying women far more skillfully, but Superbad has a special place in my heart.

Back on topic: Ex Machina is my personal favorite film of this year until Mad Max 4 arrives in theaters.

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Re: Ex Machina

Post by eselle28 on Wed May 13, 2015 3:54 pm

Glides wrote:
eselle28 wrote:

16 Candles (the dork was a rapist, but the movie treated him as if he were a nice guy), Revenge of the Nerds (another rapist), Can't Buy Me Love, Weird Science, Zac and Miri Make a Porno, Superbad. John Hughes used this trope a lot. I think it's discredited these days and is often either avoided or criticized in more recent comedies, but it did used to be common. In science fiction, it can still be seen in movies like Transformers.

Wasn't Superbad supposed to be directly satirizing those kinds of movies? It depicted the same tropes in a realistic context, to the point where Seth was literally in tears over Jules not drinking, because he genuinely believed that the only way girls could be attracted to ugly men is if they're drunk. On Evan's side, he had a drunk girl try to seduce him and hated it. Both of them try to act out the tropes they see in these other shit films (I hate John Hughes and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Even though Home Alone is a guilty pleasure. I hate him and what he stood for: mainly date rape), and everything goes wrong. Only McLovin ends up getting some simply by not trying to manipulate anyone and actually having a pleasant and respectful interaction with a woman.

Regardless, I like it for treating a cliche seriously, despite also being funny as hell. It's not perfect, the female characters exist as objects for the boys and so on, it's baby steps in the right direction. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and 500 Days of Summer and Her dealt with objectifying women far more skillfully, but Superbad has a special place in my heart.

Back on topic: Ex Machina is my personal favorite film of this year until Mad Max 4 arrives in theaters.

McLovin is the only character who has sex, but both of the other guys get dates at the end. This might be one where people's take on the message varies depending on gender and experiences. To me, the message was that the absolute most a woman can expect from men is a lack of creepiness and that most women will have to settle for forgiving guys who were creepy but promise to not do it again - a pretty depressing take on things if you tend to identify with the female characters.

Sadly, I can't comment on Ex Machina, since it isn't showing in my town. Sad
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Re: Ex Machina

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