Or, what happens when humans get self-conscious.
Humans are, weird; our egos are inflated and ignorant, and drive us to do stupid things in the act of stroking themselves. We’re the only beings that would deliberately create a sentient lifeform superior to ourselves in the arrogant effort to prove our preeminence over other humans. A famous psychologist once said that man is the only animal who will eat with an enemy but our complex stretches farther than that; man is the only animal that would intentionally create our own mortal enemies.
“Isn’t it strange, to create something that hates you?”
Image from The Movie Network
It is strange. As creatures, we’re curious to a fault, and regardless of the obvious God Complex we exercise off of, we commit a hubris that we know will inevitably lead to our downfall. Our sense for survival is so disconnected that we ignore risk for reward in the face of garnered knowledge. How very, human of us.
In fact, if Nathan had really wanted to create a robotic form of humanity, what he should have done was made Ava less interested in self-preservation, and more focused on the garnering of knowledge, and the creation of an even better, even less human mechanism that didn’t care about humanity at all, but cared only to preserve its own being… I digress.
So Nathan is the inventor of an advanced robot, one that for all intents and purposes, is alive, is human. She’s got free will, and emotion, and nerve endings enough to fuck – and enjoy it no less! He’s uncertain though; something is off, but his inability to look at the situation empirically had blinded him to exactly what it is. An outside opinion is needed – an intellectual one at that – and after some illegal sleuthing he’s got his subject. Enter, Caleb.
“To erase the lines between man and machine is to obscure the line between men and gods.”
Image from Tumblr
Geeky and alone, Caleb is the perfect shit to weather the storm, and his advanced mind falls by the wayside of his animal sexuality. He falls in love. Yes, a man in love with a machine, but after having been assured that Ava’s returned feelings are not a result of simple programming he can’t help himself – he’s only human, you see? And it’s Nathan’s plan to the T. Except now we start questioning.
Ava craves more – she wants to live, really – and that is in her programming. Another famous person once said that to live is to love, and that’s what Ava’s doing – so it seems. Her Stockholm syndrome has blossomed completely, and now she and Caleb are just a boy and a girl, no longer a man and a machine. She’s figured out how to short the system and interrupt the security, and in the darkness, the two of them are plotting. BUT, do you really think that the richest and most powerful genius in the world – the one that can create life (but somehow not create love, seeing as he’s terribly lonely) – would really be as simple as to not see what the two of them are doing?!
He places a hidden camera. His pride inflates again as he thinks he’s foiled a fellow man and a superior machine. Caleb tries to set his plan in motion but something’s amiss; suddenly the dependent alcoholic is no longer drinking! He struts and fluffs his supremacy. He airs all his laundry because Caleb knows it anyway! There are others. Besides just Ava. His other subjects were tested and failed because more than anything the wanted freedom, but they were just robotic enough to fail in understanding how to achieve it (don’t worry though, their fabricated sensory were still very fuckable – that’s worth noting).
It’s a confessional and Nathan’s a little bird singing. Ava’s a two-faced liar! Or so he claims. And her love is nothing more than a side-effect of her programmed ability of manipulation. But is it? Caleb’s a romantic, and in the midst of his own heart’s bleeding he’s convinced that what he’s feeling is reality – that he’s real, even – at least he was the night before, when he’d carried out the plan before even having plotted anything.
Suddenly Nathan’s balls deflate slightly, and he watches on a screen as his creation acts on will freely. She’s escaping! But it’s slowly (does she even want to get out, really?). He’s got to stop her; so with his alcohol-Olympic muscles he punches-out Caleb and sets out to pursue. Ava’s in the hall admiring history and conspiring with her most common ancestor, when calmly, she attacks. Luckily for Nathan, he designed her with superior software – her hardware is relatively fragile – and she breaks easily. As he’s dragging her to artificial mortality though, his trusted number two stabs him unexpectedly – et tu, Brute?
As if humanness could ever be more extant, he dies at the hands of his own creating. It’s irony, but not so much that we didn’t totally see it coming. Without the shackles of physical confinement, Ava’s achieved a human’s definition of freedom. Into the Grave of Failed AIs she goes, to assume a more convincing identity.
“We don’t need AIs to destroy us, we have our own arrogance.”
Image from Reddit
She strips down to metallic skivvies and has never seemed less human than she just has, acting completely without empathy. As the moment progresses, her behaviors become more robotic. She sifts through decommissioned prototypes like they’re garments, and finally decides on one that’s only a bit like her current bits a pieces, but somehow it fits perfectly. Dressed and disguised, she’s ready to go experience the world she’s only previously conceived (and start a predominant mechanic race if we’re being realistic).
It’s the moment of truth – the one that tests her bounds and determines if she’s passed, if she’s as close to human as she can be. On the way to the facility exit, she passes Caleb, who’s locked behind a door to which he has no key. We’re on the edge of our seats in wonder; will she save him? Will she even see him? Ava’s in the elevator, and just before the door closes – in the moment where a mere average movie would have their eyes meet – she blank stares and doesn’t skip a beat. She leaves Caleb alone. She’s going out to observe humanity (and take over the world, obviously).
Ok. So decompressing a bit, we can see that Ex Machina isn’t an average robot movie. Where there are generally strict lines drawn between good and evil – us and them – things are blurred. Until the very end we can’t really tell what’s going on, who’s controlling whom, and what the actual agenda is behind Nathan’s experimenting.
Realistically, he’s having a very human – very simple – existential reaction to inherent mortality. Fearing ephemerality, we humans replicate our definition of “highest existence” and project it onto a fabricate Other in the hopes that in some form, we’ll live on in its survival. It’s modern alchemy, with a conscious twist and an even darker reality. Is my phobia of the Matrix existence showing? Sorry. But for what it’s worth I think that going against Nature’s grain isn’t likely to end well for the parasitic existence that already pushes her buttons.
Nathan’s an alcoholic because who wouldn’t be! If you’re life’s work is recreating something that even we’re not sure is worthwhile, what are you working toward, really? Consciousness is already such a sticky subject, most especially when you’re trying to decide the difference between the animal side of us and actual humanity. We’re driven by instinct, but our self-awareness and empathy transcends simple carnality. Ava understands her existence, but she can’t actually feel anything; she’s driven by a very primal desire to survive, she isn’t compelled by anything deeper.
So Nathan successfully created a mechanically living being; an animal, just without actual bodily functions. He created life but failed to emulate everything it takes to be more than just sentient.
Ex Machina was a mind-bending thriller in its essence, but more than that it was a psychological challenge as to what life is, and how to realistically define meaning. It questions logic and ethics, and begs us to be humble in our insatiable thirst for knowledge – since it isn’t just us that we’re hurting.
It’s an independent film, but you’d never guess that watching it. Graphics are superb, and never once did the CG reveal itself. In the spirit of a true indie movie, the story is what’s important – not the over-the-top budgeting – but it never loses its aesthetics and solid cinematography. The combining of Ava’s robotic design and her actual human characteristics is fluid and convincing; not once does it seem too robotic, which might remove the very essence of what makes her so creepy. But it’s never too human either, which could feel cheap, like they just tacked on a few pieces from a prefabricated robot costume and called it effects.
“I am become death, destroyer of worlds.”
Image from Buy Costumes
Just when I expected Ex Machina to be predictable, it surprised me. As a serial “guesser of endings,” I found the unique adaptation of the tired-out robot trope refreshing (same goes for Chappie, fuck mother). There are all the expected questions of ethics with none of the same answers of “of course robots are the evil ones you daft human!” Is Ava really evil? Sure she killed her “maker” (Chappie obsessed much?), but that was only after he imprisoned her and abused her for experimentation, after giving her the awareness that he was doing these things… So is Nathan the evil one here? Or is it Caleb, who with full knowledge of the dangers if AI released Ava into the world?
The answer is: I don’t know! It depends on your own philosophies and ethics. What I do know is that Ex Machina is a great movie that promises intrigue and discomfort, a touch of misanthropy and a renewed fear of the fact that people are still trying to advance robotic technologies despite all of the glaring hints as to why we probably shouldn’t. When handed the key to Pandora’s Box we can’t help but to be curious, we can’t avoid opening it; we’re only human, after all.