Ex Machina or “Babes in Toyland”.   Review: Model (A-1)

This science fiction cum philosophical thriller of a movie may very well erotically and intellectually titillate a strata of the population that I would identify as “young male techies”.  I do not fit into two of the three categories I just mentioned, but nevertheless I enjoyed it.

The babes are not the youngsters that Victor Herbert was referring to in his 1903 operetta.  No, they are fully formed sometimes frontally nude androids, sporting female characteristics.  They are the babes, and they are the toys.

But, this being the twenty-first century and not 1903, Alex Garland the screen writer and director of the film is well aware of the rise of afeminist consciousness during the last 100 years.  The creator of these female androids, (that can service men sexually, and according to their creator, enjoy doing so) does get compared to God early on in the film. Definitely a paternal, Old Testament God who creates female consciousness out of his own brains, rather than using Adam’s rib.  His name is Nathaniel – one of the smartest men in the world – certainly thebest coder –and he owns the hugely successful tech company where young Caleb codes.  Caleb has been given the opportunity to spend a week at Nathaniel’s redoubt in the wilderness, there to interact with Ava, an advanced android in female form.  His task is to help Nathaniel determine whether or not she has a consciousness that could be seen as human. The movie skips a big, logical beat, when Caleb omits reflecting on why his superbright boss needs him to do the evaluating.

By the end of the movie we find out why, and so does Caleb.

Most viewers of the film will be enthralled by the beauty of the natural surroundings (filmed amidst the mountains and forests of Norway) and the hyper modern interiors, which combine giant Big Sur fireplaces with glass and marble spaces. There is even a Jackson Pollack (a good copy for sure) hanging on the “creators” bedroom wall, which serves as a springboard for Nathaniel to launch into a rap about the importance of spontaneity and randomness, thus giving him the intellectual support to shut down questions Caleb is asking about why these androids are being created.

The movie succeeds in being a thriller with surprising twists, and it does make us think about the nature of consciousness, (a positive experience not often elicited by a film).

But for me, the most exciting intellectual stretch Garland made, was the parallel he drew between the relation of humans to robots with the relation of men to women.  He is bold enough to draw men watching this film into the set of seeing women as servicers of men, and then showing men where that may get them.

An adult film for sure, in more ways than one.

Ex Machina or “Babes in Toyland”.  Review: Model (A-2) 

Consider all the important elements of review Model (A-1) to be incorporated into this review Model (A-2).  As you may imagine, there is a connection between the content of Ex Machina itself and their being more than one review model.

The other thread running through this film, skillfully interwoven with the parallel Garner makes between patriarchy and manipulative control, is that of attempting to differentiate human consciousness from artificial intelligence.

Early on, Nathaniel sets the stage by positing self-reflection as a key differentiator.  A chess-playing machine that can best any human but doesn’t know that it is a machine playing chess besting humans is still a machine.

Later on when Ava and Caleb first meet, it soon becomes evident (thanks to the screen writing and directing of Garner) that Ava is as interested in knowing about Caleb, as Caleb is interested in knowing about Ava.  The viewer begins to see that in addition to self-reflection, curiosity about others and the world at large may well be an integral part ofhuman consciousness.

So now we have self-reflection and the urge to learn more as building blocks of human consciousness. Necessary, but not sufficient.

It is only at the end of the film, just as it is only in this Model (A-2) review, that we are introduced to the critical reagent enabling us to detect the presence of human vs. artificial intelligence. 

So, here I interject a spoiler alert (of sorts).  Of sorts, because it is not specifically descriptive, and yet does indicate a thrust underlying the film.

Knowing that you are a separate entity engaged in various activities is step one; being curious about the world and others is step two.

Curiosity implies motivation, and motivation in and of itself is part of human consciousness.  But then Garner indicates that finally a particular motivation needs to be put into the mix if we are to cross the threshold and leave artificial intelligence behind.

That motivation is the wish to be free, and not subject to the control and manipulation of others.

I leave it to you to contemplate (or not) your definition of human consciousness, versus that of an artificial intelligence.